Illinois Bankruptcy Lawyers Warn of Hidden Bank Fees

I don't usually do well with change. I've had pretty much the same hairstyle since high school, I've been driving the same car since I got my license and I have a mini-meltdown every time Facebook changes its layout. So naturally, I've been banking with the same company - a large national bank that shall remain nameless - since I first started earning a paycheck. Until recently, that is, when I finally had enough.

Over the years, charges started showing up on my account. First it was $2 for paper statements, which were formerly free. I canceled them and chose e-mail only. Then it was $1 for every transfer I made between accounts. I had to start limiting transfers.

Then, since I didn't have direct deposit (a disadvantage of being self-employed), I became liable for a $10 "monthly maintenance" fee. I switched to another account that waived the fee if you kept a $1,000 minimum. It wasn't ideal, but I figured the minimum would be good to keep in an emergency, and most importantly I would avoid that annoying $10. Apparently not. Just months after I opened the new account, my bank upped the balance minimum to $1,500 without any notification. Another $10 down the drain.

I wanted to be loyal - I was used to this company's online banking interface, I liked my check designs, and I loved the fact that I could walk to a branch from my house. But these are tight times and a bank is supposed to take care of my money! Unnamed big bank was betting on the fact that I would rather be comfortable than worry about a fee here or there. I called them on their bluff. I opened a free checking account at a smaller bank in town.

If your bank isn't treating you right, maybe it's time to move on. Free checking and savings accounts are becoming increasingly common, especially if you're willing to sign up online. President Obama is pushing for a Consumer Financial Protection Agency that will help eliminate hidden fees and other deceptive practices (see my Thursday post for more details). In this economy, there's no time for customer loyalties.

Of course, you have responsibilities as a customer, too. Any bank is going to have to charge you if you overdraw on your account, bounce checks or fail to make your loan payments. It helps to stay aware of your balance. If you're not sure, just call the number on your card. And if you just can't keep enough in your account to avoid penalties, reduce your debt so you can. Not sure how? Bankruptcy is one tried-and-true way to do it. When you file, you're legally protected from creditor actions while you develop a more affordable payment plan to get out of debt for good.

Wondering if bankruptcy is right for you? Find out for free at DebtStoppers with our one-on-one debt analysis. Take your paycheck back from banks and creditors and put it where it belongs - in your pockets.

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