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By Terry Savage, Personal Finance Columnist, Chicago Sun-Times
It’s the holiday shopping season, a time when banks and pickpockets hope you’re concentrating more on spending than on safeguarding your money!
Bank fees are on the rise again, especially since consumers won the protest against monthly charges for access to their own money in the form of debit card fees. Now, banks are still trying to figure out how to make up for the money they are no longer getting on each debit card transaction, ever since Congress cut and capped transaction fees. So if you get one of those “fine print” form letters from your bank –here are some of the things you should be looking for:
· Monthly Checking Account Fees, Higher Minimums – Say goodbye to free checking. Banks are instituting monthly fees – especially if you don’t keep a substantial balance in your checking account - in some cases at least $5,000.
· Online Bill Payment Fees - Online bill payment used to be free. After all, it saves banks the trouble of processing paper checks. But more and more banks are requiring minimum balances, or a combination of other assets, such as CD’s and IRA’s. Otherwise you’ll pay a monthly fee for online bill payment.
· Fees for Wire Transfers, Certified Checks—Some services such as wire transfers or certified checks used to be free. Now banks are even charging fees for wire transfers that bring money INTO your account!
· Higher ATM Fees – Many banks have increased the fees they charge if you use another bank’s ATM.
So pay close attention to the fine print when you get your statement, or the little brochure describing “changes to your account terms.” Look around for a community bank or credit union that might have far lower fees. The only problem is that they probably have fewer and less convenient ATM’s. So make sure they reimburse any fees charged if you use an ATM from another bank.
Guard Your Wallet
The first line of defense is your own wallet or purse. After all, the holiday season is also pickpocket season!
Take a look at all the stuff you’re carrying around in your wallet. Do you need all of it? Sort out what you do need, and leave other things, like your Social Security card, safely at home.
Then make a list of what’s in your wallet – including the account number, plus the toll-free numbers to call if your wallet is stolen.
Here’s what should be on the list – and it’s more than credit cards:
· Credit cards
· Health Insurance
· Auto Insurance
· Membership cards
· Bus or transit pass
· Office keycard for entry
If you have a list at home of what’s in your wallet – and who to call if it is stolen – you can avoid some panicky moments.
Shop Safely Online
First, never shop – or do any financial transaction – on an unsecure wifi site, at a coffee shop or on a college campus. It’s far too easy for others to track your moves and then sign in later using your ID.
Use only secure corporate websites to shop. If the site uses “https” – not just “http” in the web browser line, it indicates a higher level of security for your transaction information.
Never send credit card information by email. Even if you’re sending that kind of information to a friend, it can be intercepted and misused if your friend opens the email on a smart phone email program that is not secure.
Check your credit card balances online every day during the shopping season – and be alert to any unauthorized charges.
Use your credit card, not your debit card, for shopping online. Any fraudulent use of your Visa or MasterCard is 100% protected, as is debit card fraud. But fraud on your debit card could drain your bank account – and it could take a while to get your money back.
These tips should help you have a financially safe holiday. That’s The Savage Truth.
Post questions/comments on Terry’s blog at http://www.TerrySavage.com