Thursday, February 28, 2013

Seven Lessons on How to Pay More Bank Fees

Do you want to pay more in bank fees on your checking account? Follow my advice you will spend more than intended on bank fees!

1. Ignore your account between paychecks.
  • Lots of people only look at their account on payday when they make a deposit. “I’m in a negative balance. Why?” They don’t keep a running total on their check register nor use online or mobile banking to track their usage. This can result in multiple overdrafts costing at least $35 for each occurrence.
2. Ignore financial institution correspondence that comes with your statement.
  • Financial Institutions can make changes to their accountholder agreements. Often these changes affect the fee schedule of the institution. If one ignores the changes by failing to read the statement enclosures, they may fail to heed a warning that their minimum balance has increased and start paying a monthly fee or miss out on some other change that will result in higher fees.
3. Ignoring minimum balance or direct deposit requirements
  • To maintain a free checking account, many financial institutions require that an accountholder maintain a specified minimum or have their paycheck directly deposited to their account. Drawing funds so the account balance falls below the required minimum or changing employers and forgetting to set up direct deposit can result in a member paying higher fees.
4. Skip Overdraft Protection
  • Yeah, you probably won’t make any mistakes with your account so Overdraft Protection is probably unnecessary. But, of course, if you do make a mistake, you will pay $35 or more per occurrence. Good overdraft protection provides you with a line of credit or a transfer from your savings account that is paid to your checking account if an item is presented for payment and there are insufficient funds. Your fee for the transfer may be free or as little as $5. That is a lot less than an overdraft or Non Sufficient Funds charge.
5. Move to another financial institution and ignore your old account.
  • You moved to a new bank or credit union and left a few bucks in the old account in case something comes in. After a while, you forget about the old account. Does your accountholder agreement have built in fees for inactivity? Some institutions enforce inactivity fees of $5 or more per month should you stop using your account and allow it to become inactive or dormant. Remember to close old accounts when you change institutions. Not only can you lose money with inactivity fees, your account could just get old and after three years of inactivity, it may go dormant. Allowing your account to go dormant means that any money remaining in the account at the end of three years of inactivity can be sent to the State of California’s Controller’s Office. The money can be redeemed by the accountholder but it takes time to go through the bureaucratic process.
6. Using money orders to pay for items that require guaranteed funds.
  • A financial institution will charge $5 or more to issue a money order or cashier’s check. Did you know that if you send a check through your online banking it is a guaranteed check and it is free?
7. Use ATM’s indiscriminately
  • If you are not using the ATM’s that are authorized by your financial institution you will likely be charged for each instance of usage. Those fees are not just from your bank, they are charged by the foreign financial institution’s ATM for non-customer usage. Costs: usually $5 -$7 per instance. You could be charged $2-3 by your institution and as much as $5 by the company that owns the ATM. 
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What is the difference between banks and credit unions? Some teenagers in Alberta, Canada came up with an ingenious video to describe the differences. It is linked here. I hope you enjoy it! 

Federally insured by NCUA. We do business in accordance with the Federal Fair Housing Law and Equal Credit Opportunity Act.
Copyright 2013 Meriwest Credit Union. All rights reserved.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Happy Valentine's Day! Save your Money!

On Valentine’s Day, we tend to spend money on our significant others. Like many holidays, it is conspicuous for its spending. We buy flowers, jewelry, chocolates, and meals all in the hopes that he or she will be our Valentine. They say you have to “Spend money to make money.” I wish there were an easy rhyme that goes along with spending money for your Valentine’s date! How about “Spend money to get a Honey?”  

A dozen roses can cost from $40 to over one hundred depending on where you get them. Today, many restaurants are advertising special deals for Valentine's Day. Several are advertising $150 complete four course meals for two. Maybe I'm cheap, but for $150 they should change the oil in my car, too!

Couples do a lot of things together; they dance, they dine, and they drink just to name a few. But one of the most significant things they can do for themselves is save money. There was an old saying that “Two can live as cheaply as one.” For obvious reasons we know that is not true, but two can live together cheaper than two living apart. What do I mean? The sharing of Expenses.

When we get married or decide to share our home with someone, we can realize some significant savings in our expenses. By combining our budgets, we can find ourselves with a lot of extra cash. We share rent with someone. We also share our utility bills such as cable and electricity. Buying our ingredients and cooking most of our meals at home rather than eating out can almost make it seem as if two can eat as cheaply as one. The challenge is to take the savings amount of each of these categories and invest it in a savings or money market account. Couples need to have commitment, discipline and focus to do this.

Spare change is always good. We might have a savings plan and budget our spending, but there is always spare change in our pockets. Save that change and turn it in annually for a nice savings surprise. I average $250 annually in accumulated coins from my pocket. I have been told that is low!

These are adhoc methods of saving. The best way is to have a plan and a goal for your dollars. A simple goal of $50 in savings deposited each month at a savings interest rate of 3.5% can turn into $3,282 in five years! (Rates are low now, but with inflation, they will be going up in the future.)

Do we need two cars? Selling one car can save you a payment, insurance, gas, maintenance and repairs on it. Get a monthly fast pass for the local metro and bank the rest!

But there are also a lot of compelling reasons to save:

Young couples typically get invited to other couples’ weddings and showers with gift obligations. Savings can offset some of the expense of this compulsory gift giving.

Appliances break! Hair dryers, curling irons, razors, microwaves, toasters, blenders, mixers, etc can break and need replacement. How many women can go without a hair dryer or curling iron for even a day? How many men can go without a coffee maker or microwave? These are expensive to replace and can be trouble for your monthly budget. Save money for their replacement. 

Cars breakdown. Tires go flat, hoses leak, batteries go dead, and belts break. A broken transmission can cost you over $1,500! Just owning a car is a good reason to save. 

Is there someone the couple loves who lives far away? A grandparent, parent, or other favorite relative? Suppose that relative became gravely ill? Would they want to see them? Emergency travel is another good reason we save! Considering the expense of traveling, this may only be possible thru savings. (or the dread use of credit).

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Our next financial workshop is for teens: Reality Based Budgets - The Post College Simulation
February 20th at 6:30 PM at our Main Office 
Meriwest Credit Union
5615 Chesbro Ave
San Jose CA 95123

Please contact to RSVP for the workshop.

Federally insured by NCUA. We do business in accordance with the Federal Fair Housing Law and Equal Credit Opportunity Act.
Copyright 2013 Meriwest Credit Union. All rights reserved.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Why do prepaid cards have a bad reputation?

Prepaid cards have a bad rep due to fees. People with modest incomes, such as students, seniors, or those on public assistance have very limited funds to pay for their living expenses. If one is only making about $400-$500 a month, the cards can be very costly. Depending on how you use a typical prepaid card, you could lose up to 10% of your monthly income in fees. Often they are seen as a predatory type of transaction card due to the charges they have for loading the card with money, using it at merchants or accessing cash at an ATM. All three transactions would be free at a credit union or a bank if they were using their checking account.

What would a typical month’s worth of fees look like?
I have looked up several prepaid cards over the past several weeks in researching them for use by the clients of some of our nonprofit partners in the community.  The fees I am quoting here are averages based on several typical cards.

Here is an example list of typical fees charged on a prepaid card:
Initial Purchase
Monthly Charge
Often Monthly service charges may be waived if one maintains a minimum balance or performs
several transactions to offset fee.
ATM Withdrawals-participating ATM's
(non-participating ATM's.)
There may be charges from the out of network

Teller Withdrawals
Transaction Fee (Point of Sale/PIN Purchase)
Balance Inquiry Fee
Reload cash fee

In this scenario, let’s say I bought the card, reloaded it twice during the month with my paycheck of $250. I am a student making $500 a month in a part time job. I get paid twice a month on the 1st and the 15th. I had five ATM transactions, three of which were out of the network. I used the card to make 12 purchases at various merchants. I made three inquiries at ATM’s.

Purchase price
Two reloads @ 4.95
Two In network ATM withdrawals
3 out of network withdrawals @ 2.50
Out network ATM Fees @ 3.00
12 point of sale transactions @ .15
3 ATM inquiries @ .50

Would a checking account have been cheaper?
Generally, yes. It depends on where you bank. With a checking account at most credit unions, the only fees I would have paid would have been the out of network ATM fees. Most financial institutions do not charge you to make a deposit, take money from your account with a teller, make point of sale purchases, or inquire on your account. 
But many checking accounts today have a fee unless there is a minimum monthly balance or you use direct deposit. Be sure to verify what the requirements are for your checking account before you open it

How are people confused about Prepaid cards?
People mix these up with gift cards. Gift cards typically charge a fee to purchase the card itself, but not for transacting on the card. Prepaid cards often charge for both items.

Also, people are confused by the fee schedules. There are fees for virtually anything you do with the card. Often, people think these are similar to their bank or CU ATM cards and can be used the same way. The fees eat into their balance and limit the amount of money they can use to pay for expenses.

Is a prepaid card a viable option for an unbanked person?
Yes, with caveats! If one is careful about its use. Card owners must use network ATM’s to avoid withdrawal fees. Use the internet to inquire on their balances as that is generally free with most cards. They must also keep tabs on and limit their purchases to avoid excessive point of sale transaction fees. 

How about using these for travel? 
That might be a good idea. If the card is lost or stolen, it can easily replaced and your accounts back home are not subject to identity theft. I suppose you could consider the cost of the fees part of your vacation expense!

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The next Meriwest Credit Union workshop-

Tax Changes for 2013
Speaker: Will Slade of Slade and Associates. Mr. Slade is an IRS Enrolled Agent with many years of experience in counseling his tax clients and tax preparation.
10am February 9th at the Meriwest Credit Union Main Office
5615 Chesbro Ave. San Jose CA 95123
Please RSVP with

The Mr. Slade will cover the following:
  • Tax ramifications of “Obamacare”
  • Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) patch
  • Permanent implementation of Bush era Tax Cuts

I hope you can join us.
Federally insured by NCUA. We do business in accordance with the Federal Fair Housing Law and Equal Credit Opportunity Act.
Copyright 2013 Meriwest Credit Union. All rights reserved.