Consumer Alert: Increased Bank and Credit Card Fees

Mellody Hobson sorts through pages of fine print and tells you how to save.

June 30, 2009— -- Banks and credit card companies across the country are still feeling the effects of the recession.

And recent banking reform legislation passed by Congress limits their ability to raise interest rates. So guess how they're looking to make up for the lost revenue? You guessed it: They're increasing the fees they charge customers.

Banks and credit card companies are notorious for the fine print in which they bury information on fees. Most Americans don't go through it line by line, but even if they did, it would be hard to get a clear picture of what's new.

ABC News financial contributor and president of Ariel Investments Mellody Hobson goes through the changes and decodes the fees that are going up.

It probably comes as no surprise that the fees that are going up are the three that consumers get hit with the most.

It's a triple-whammy of higher bank overdraft fees, higher ATM fees and higher credit card late payment fees. And because these are such big sources of revenue for banks -- they'll collect about $39 billion dollars in overdraft fees alone this year -- banks are making it easier for customers to slip up and paying these fees.

"The thing is, it's getting so much easier to trip over these fees," Hobson said.

Consumers need to be wary. For example, here's a customer with a debit card who has only $5 in his or her bank account and is about to spend $20 on a T-shirt. Banks will now say, sure, let that transaction go through. So you get a T-shirt you don't have the money for and they get a big fee.

Overdraft Bank Fees

So how much exactly are these fees going up?

Let's start with overdraft bank fees. Last year, the fee on average was $25. That's now gone up to $27.50. Fees for using out-of-network ATMs are up too. Last year, the typical fee was $3.10; it's now more like $3.50.

Three-fifty may not sound like much, but if you use an ATM twice a week like most people do, that's $364 a year you are basically giving your bank as a present.

Then we have the late fees for when you don't pay your credit card bill on time.

Last year, that fee was about $34. This year, some credit card companies, including American Express and Bank of America Platinum Plus Visa, are charging as much as $38.

So how do you avoid paying these higher fees?

First, if you need a reminder to pay your credit card bill on time or to avoid overdrawing your bank account. You can get reminders. If you use online banking, Chase, Bank of America and Citibank both have alerts that can be sent to you when your credit card bill is almost due or when your bank account falls below a certain amount.

If you don't bank online, there is a free Web site called that can give you those reminders by e-mail. It's a personal money management system that connects securely with more than 7,000 financial institutions. So if you need a little prod every month to pay your credit card bill, it can give you that elbow in the ribs you need.

But is it possible to get out of paying ATM fees altogether?

The obvious choice is using ATMs within your bank's network. But that's a lot easier said than done.

So the other option is using banks that do not charge you for using other folk's ATMs. Charles Schwab and E*Trade both don't charge for out-of-network withdrawals and will even reimburse your for any ATM fees you do pay.

Let's say you have just been charged one of these fees. Is there any way to get out of paying it?

"No bank is going to advertise that they are waiving fees," Hobson said. But the reality is that they often will, but usually on a case-by-case basis.

Waive Fees

If you're a good customer who had not paid a bill late until now, absolutely pick up the phone or send an e-mail and ask if the credit card company would consider waiving the fee.

"When you're a good customer, and you're not a serial late payer, you have a much better shot," Hobson said.

Some banks and credit card companies will waive the fee once, especially if you say you'll take your business elsewhere.

"They want to keep the good-paying customer. Always, always ask. And the person on the phone is empowered to make that decision," Hobson said. "You don't have to demand the manager instantly or supervisor."

Mellody Hobson, president of Ariel Investments in Chicago, is "Good Morning America's" personal finance expert. Click here to visit her Web site, Amar Parikh, director of corporate affairs for Ariel Investments, contributed to this report..