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Personal Finance

6 little bank fees eating away your money without you noticing

October 7, 2015

| MoneyRates.com Senior Financial Analyst, CFA

Over time, even a seemingly harmless trickle of water can wear away a tremendous amount of earth, or even carve deep gashes into solid rock. Bank fees can do the same thing to your account balances if you're not vigilant. Drip, drip, drip - each fee small enough that you decide to let it go, but after a while you find they have eroded away significant amounts of your money.

Here are six fees that could be eating away at your bank accounts without you noticing:

1. Monthly checking account maintenance fees

These are charges just for having a checking account. At an average of $13.09 in the latest MoneyRates Bank Fees Survey, these monthly bank fees add up to just over $157 a year. Three-quarters of all checking accounts now charge these fees, so avoiding them is difficult - but not impossible.

If you are looking for one of the banks with no fees, search for institutions offering online savings or checking accounts. Also, some banks will waive the monthly fee if you have direct deposit or maintain a specified minimum balance.

2. Overdraft fees

Overdraft fees now average $32.44 per occurrence, so if you have a few transactions once you overdraft your account you could pay a multiple of that figure. On top of that, banks often charge an additional fee for each day the account maintains a negative balance. By law, banks now have to assume new customers don't want overdraft protection, but since these fees are a huge profit center for them, they actively encourage people to opt in. Do yourself a favor, and don't agree to accept this very expensive checking account feature.

3. Statement fees

You might have thought that simply having an account entitled you to regular statements. But in an effort to save printing and mailing costs, some banks are now charging for those statements.

These fees are usually just a couple dollars, but you can avoid them if you are willing to view account statements online, or if you find a bank with no fees for monthly statements.

4. Out-of-network ATM fees

If you use your own bank's ATM or one that is part of a network to which your bank belongs, you usually will not be charged a fee. However, if you use an out-of-network ATM, you could pay two types of fees for this convenience. The bank that owns the ATM may charge non-customers a fee, and these average $2.69 per transaction.

In addition to that, your own bank might charge you for using another bank's ATM, and these fees average $1.61 per occurrence. Combined then, using an out of network ATM costs an average of $4.30, so when you choose a bank check to see that they have a network of machines convenient to your regular travels.

5. Currency exchange charges

Banks will often exchange foreign currencies at their branches, but for a fee. With any per-occurrence fee, the key is to consolidate transactions to minimize the number of fees you pay. So, think ahead so you can combine your upcoming needs into a single transaction rather than paying for a series of smaller currency exchanges.

If you are going to be traveling with friends or family members, have everyone pool their money to be exchanged into one transaction rather than each of you paying a separate fee. The galling thing about paying a fee for currency exchange is that banks also make money on these transactions by providing a less-than-favorable exchange rate.

6. Foreign transaction fees

Besides charging you to exchange currency at the branch, banks also often charge an additional fee if you use your credit or debit card in a foreign country. To minimize these fees, try paying for as many small transactions as possible in cash rather than via a credit or debit card.

Don't ignore that dripping sound. While each occurrence may seem harmless, they come in enough forms and happen frequently enough that they can seriously erode your hard-earned savings.

More from MoneyRates.com:

Avoiding checking account fees

Should I deposit more to avoid a statement fee?

Are pre-paid cards a good alternative to checking accounts to avoid rising fees?

Robo-advisors: Would you trust a machine with your retirement savings?

October 2, 2015

| Money Rates Columnist

It's 2015. Computers are everywhere. But would you let them make investment decisions for you?

That's the premise behind robo-advisors, and they're the next big thing in retirement planning, according to analysts.

The rise of robo-advisors

Robo-advisors work by users punching in their savings goals and then an algorithm kicks in with a recommended investment strategy. Then, over time, the service will automatically balance and re-allocate funds as needed.

Firms offering robo-advisory services include a mix of big names and smaller start-ups:

  • Charles Schwab Intelligent Portfolios
  • Acorns
  • Vanguard Personal Advisor Services
  • Betterment
  • Wealthfront
  • Blooom

David Weliver, founder of Money Under 30, says one appeal of robo-advisors is their low cost and the minimal amount of money needed to begin investing, as low as $5 a month.

A report from consulting firm A.T. Kearney estimates 0.5 percent of investable assets will be managed by robo-advisory firms this year, then jump to 5.6 percent by 2020. About 7 of 10 of households say they are at least somewhat likely to use a robo-advisory service in the future.

While the firm notes early robo-advisory services adopters are often more sophisticated investors willing to take risks, subsequent waves of users are expected to include a larger percentage of novice investors.

Robo-advisors retirement savings quote

Giving options to those who had none

Chris Costello, certified financial planner and CEO of Blooom, said robo-advisors aren't just about lowering investment costs. They also provide options to customers locked out of traditional financial planning methods because their portfolio value doesn't meet advisors' required minimums.

"The biggest thing robo-advisors are doing is giving help to people who never had help before," Costello says. "It feels really, really good to do for clients with $3,000 in their account what I used to do [as a financial planner] for those with $3 million in their account."

Most robo-advisors work with brokerage or individual retirement accounts, but Blooom is unique, focusing on maximizing 401(k)s. The company's algorithm analyzes available plan options, then selects the best investments based upon expected retirement date and even price. Every 90 days, the algorithm reanalyzes options to see if the plan added any better choices. The service costs $1 a month for those with a 401(k) balance lower than $20,000 and $15 a month for higher balances.

Blooom isn't the only company with a distinct angle on the market. Acorns allows users to begin investing with only $5 and can round-up purchases so spare change is redirected to retirement savings.

When a computer isn't enough

Robo-advisors may make it easy to invest, but Weliver says you can't expect them to do everything, suggesting people with no exposure to basic investing principles may want guidance from a personal advisor.

"Robo-advisors are for those who don't want to know anything about investing," he says, "but you still need to have some knowledge."

Some advisory services may want to know a user's risk level or preferences to split their money between stocks, bonds or other investments.

A human touch is also useful for those with multiple savings goals.

"The downfall of [robo-advisors] is, by design, it's a one-size-fits-all solution," Weliver says. "A financial advisor can create a much more personalized approach."

That approach could look at tax implications, consider both mid and long-term goals and incorporate strategies to maximize Social Security.

Getting a personalized approach to investing is great, but only if you qualify for it. Compared to firms that insist on big portfolio balances for their clients, robo-advisors offer an opening to those who otherwise would be left on their own with investment management.

"It's not a question of why would someone want to use a robo-advisor," Costello says. "It's, 'Thank goodness they are available.'"

To find out more deposits options for saving for retirement, visit the MoneyRates money market account and certificate of deposit pages. 

Tell us: Are you thinking about or already using robo-advisors for your retirement savings? Let us know why you want to employ this technology or what your experience with robo-advisors has been like. 

More from MoneyRates.com:

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6 big excuses retirement savers need to stop telling themselves

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6 big excuses retirement savers need to stop telling themselves

August 25, 2015

| MoneyRates.com Senior Financial Analyst, CFA

Like most people, you probably haven't saved enough for retirement. That's OK though, as long as you have a good excuse.

Or is it? There are many excuses for not saving for retirement, but under closer analysis, most of them are not any good.

Here are six common excuses people make about retirement:

1. I don't make enough money

Making ends meet is tough for many Americans these days, so if you are just barely covering the bare necessities from paycheck to paycheck, you can give yourself a pass - but only until your next pay increase. You probably shouldn't miss money you didn't have before, so with every raise in pay, you should be able to ramp up your retirement saving.

2. I'm still paying off my student loans

Now that you've graduated, it is time to learn one of the first rules about household finances: you need to be able to multi-task and handle more than one responsibility at once. Paying off debt and saving for the future are not mutually exclusive. Every time you pay off a debt, you should use the money that no longer has to go towards those payments to increase your savings.

3. It's too early for me to be thinking about retirement

You very well could live 30 years in retirement, so don't you think you need at least 30 years to save up for it? If you don't start saving for retirement by your mid-30s, you will be falling badly behind.

4. It's not worth it when interest rates are this low

According to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the average interest rate on savings accounts is just 0.06 percent. That hardly seems like an incentive to save, but if you do the retirement savings math, low interest rates mean you should save more, not less. The less your money can be expected to grow, the more retirement savings depends primarily on how much you set aside.

5. My employer doesn't offer a retirement plan

Naturally, employees whose company offers a 401(k) or similar plan have a leg up, but if your employer doesn't offer this benefit, that's no excuse for neglecting retirement saving. You could still be deferring taxes by saving for retirement in an individual retirement account, or IRA, for up to $5,500 this year ($6,500 if you are aged 50 or over).

6. I don't want to fight with my spouse over money

If a shortage of money is causing tension now, it will only be worse if your lifestyle has to plummet due to a lack of funds when you retire. It can be stressful on a relationship when money is tight, but this isn't splurging on a spa weekend or a new TV for the man cave. If you communicate about the topic calmly and sensibly, both spouses should be able to get behind making a few sacrifices to save for retirement.

As a starting point, find out how much money you need by using a retirement savings calculator. When you see the size of the job ahead of you, it may change your thinking from feeling you can't afford to save money now to realizing you can't afford not to.

In the long run, you won't find having an excuse so satisfying if you run out of money in retirement. You may live to eat your words, but you won't find them very filling.

Tell us: Have you found yourself making these excuses before?

More from MoneyRates.com:

Small salary? Here's how to save for retirement

How to plan for retirement when unsure about your future life expectancy

3 reasons why automatic 401(k) enrollment may not be enough for retirement saving

5 crucial expenses that will cost more because of a low credit score

August 24, 2015

By Dan Rafter | Money Rates Columnist

You need car insurance. Maybe you're ready to take out a mortgage loan to buy a home. Or maybe you'd rather rent an apartment in the heart of the big city.

If your credit score is low, all of this will cost you more, a lot more.

That's because lenders and financial services providers rely on your three-digit credit scores to determine how likely you are to pay your bills on time. If you have a low credit score, lenders consider you a risky borrower, one who is likely to pay bills late or skip them entirely. Generally, lenders consider a FICO credit score of 740 or higher to be an excellent one. If your FICO score is lower than 640, though, you can expect to pay more for credit cards, loans and other financial services, if you can even qualify for them at all.

"Because of a poor credit score, you may only have access to credit cards with higher interest rates," says John Heath, directing attorney of Salt Lake City-based Lexington Law Firm.

Heath also warned that poor credit may not only cause you to pay more for necessary expenses, but also result in being denied for insurance.

"If you have poor credit, you could be denied insurance, or your premiums may increase," Heath says.

Here are five services and products that you can expect to pay more for because of your low credit score:

1. Mortgage loans

It's not easy to qualify for a mortgage loan if you have a low credit score. But if you do qualify, expect to be charged higher interest rates. That can cost you tens of thousands of dollars.

Tim Lucas, editor of MyMortgageInsider.com, puts it like this: Borrowers with a FICO credit score of 740 today could qualify for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage loan with an interest rate of 4 percent. A borrower with a FICO score of 640 would be charged an interest rate of 4.375 percent for the same loan. On a 30-year loan of $250,000, the borrower with lower credit would pay $55 more every month. That comes out to almost $20,000 if that borrower pays off the mortgage in full over 30 years.

And for borrowers with even lower credit scores? They'd be charged even higher interest rates that will cost them even more money as they pay back their mortgage loans.

"The lifetime cost of having a bad credit score is staggering when it comes to a mortgage," Lucas says.

2. Credit cards

Credit cards already come with high interest rates. But if your credit score is low, you can expect to pay even higher rates. Gary Herman, president of ConsolidatedCredit.org, says that even a few points difference in the interest rate on credit card debt can have a significant impact on your budget.

Say you have credit card debt of $5,000 at 18 percent interest. If you only make the minimum required payment each month to pay off that debt, you'll pay more than $3,000 extra in interest than if you only made the minimum payment each month and your interest rate was 13 percent.

"That's a much larger burden, which is why high-interest credit card debt can be so difficult to manage and pay off," Herman says.

3. Auto loans

Auto loans are smaller than mortgage loans, of course. But they can still add up to large monthly payments, especially if your credit scores are low. Auto lenders, like all lenders, charge higher interest rates to borrowers with low scores. The difference between an interest rate of 3.5 percent on a $15,000 five-year car loan and one of 5 percent on the same loan can add up.

"The cars for the new model year are coming out now, and auto manufacturers are advertising low interest rates," says Ken Chaplin, senior vice president of the consumer division with national credit bureau TransUnion. "But those rates are only for those people with the best credit scores. The better the score, the better you look to lenders, the more likely it is that you'll be able to enjoy those low advertised rates."

4. Insurance

It might surprise you, but many insurers charge consumers with low credit scores higher rates for auto insurance. Insurers say that drivers with high credit scores tend to get into fewer accidents and file fewer claims. That's why those with low credit scores are charged more. It's important to note, though, that insurers in Hawaii, California and Massachusetts are not allowed to use credit scoring when setting policy rates for auto insurance.

You might also pay more for homeowners insurance if your credit is score. Again, insurers say that homeowners with low credit scores are more likely to file claims, making them riskier customers.

5. Your apartment

Landlords will check your credit, too, before approving your application for an apartment unit. If your score is too low, landlords will view you as a risk to miss your monthly rental payments. Because of this, landlords might either charge you a higher monthly rent or make you come up with a larger security deposit.

There is some good news, though: Repairing your credit score is a relatively simple process. These steps include making all of your payments on time and paying off your credit card and other debts. If you do this, your credit score will slowly improve.

Just don't expect immediate response. It can take several months or a year or longer of on-time payments and debt reduction to make a noticeable improvement in your score.

Tell us: Have you had to pay more for something because of a low credit score?

More from MoneyRates.com:

I have no credit history. Why am I considered a bad risk?

4 reasons to watch your credit score

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5 money tips financial experts wish they could tell their 20-something selves

August 21, 2015

| Money Rates Columnist

When you were 20 years old, you may have thought you knew everything. Then you aged another 10 years and realized you weren't nearly as smart and savvy as you thought.

If you could go back in time and give yourself some advice, what would be it?

That was the question put to finance professionals Jennifer Landon and Charlie Harriman. Landon founded Journey Financial Services in Idaho Falls, Idaho, and took a straight path into the world of finance. She began working in the field directly out of college, which was 15 years ago.

Harriman took a detour into education before earning his MBA and entering the finance industry. He's been with Cloud Financial in Huntsville, Alabama, for the last five years, where he works as a certified estate planner.

Landon and Harriman say if they could go back and talk to their younger selves, these five points are the pieces of advice they would give themselves:

1. "Be afraid of debt."

It's not enough to simply avoid debt. Landon says she would advise her 20-year-old self to be downright afraid of it.

"Every time you borrow money, you give away a future dollar earned," she says.

Not only can interest payments stretch already thin budgets, but always being in debt means you will also be perpetually paying off your past with no chance to save for future dreams and goals.

2. "Make sure advice is right for you."

Harriman notes there is no shortage of personal finance advice available today. It's posted on the Internet, written in books and shared by well-meaning friends and relatives.

"It's great to listen to what people say, but a lot of that is general information," he says. When asked what he would tell his 20-year-old self, Harriman says, "You have to make sure the advice you're taking is right for you."

Rather than trying to wedge yourself into someone else's investment philosophy or savings strategy, young professionals should take into account their own personality, goals and circumstances when making money decisions.

3. "There is absolutely no correlation between income and financial success."

Don't fall for the mistake of believing a big paycheck is a sign of financial success. On the contrary, Landon says she would tell herself that success is actually measured by your habits, not your circumstances.

"Financial success is based upon good habits, and those are habits you can have at any income level," Landon says.

Good foundational habits that lead to success include living on less than you earn, putting money into savings and paying cash for big purchases whenever possible. Landon notes that 20-somethings might want to make excuses about why they can't stop spending or start saving, but ultimately, it all comes down to cultivating self-discipline.

4. "Invest early and open a Roth retirement account."

Although Harriman opened a Roth Individual Retirement Account at age 21, he regrets not putting more cash in it during his younger years.

"I see some 30-year-olds with a quarter million in their 401(k) account," he says. "I wish I would have put more in a retirement account."

For today's young professionals, Harriman suggests putting money in Roth IRA and Roth 401(k) rather than traditional retirement accounts. While you don't get a tax deduction for putting money into the account, you can withdraw from tax-free savings in retirement. Harriman says people early in their careers are likely in lower tax brackets than they will be in retirement. That means it's better to get a tax hit on the money now instead of later.

However, the most crucial thing is to simply start saving. Time is a critical component to maximizing compound interest in retirement accounts and as Harriman says, "You can't get back time."

5. "Don't wait for your circumstances to make you happy."

Landon says her final piece of advice to herself would be to not wait around for the stars to align before being content with life.

"We wait for our circumstances to make us happy," she says.

However, time can quickly slip away while you're waiting for the perfect job, a bigger payday or a great circle of friends. Rather than waiting for an ideal life, Landon would tell her 20-year-old self to "be relevant in the space you're in."

On the flip side, if life does bring material success, Landon would remind herself to never feel like she needs to apologize for living well. "It's OK to work hard and have a great lifestyle because of it," she says.

For those who are older, it's easy to look back and have second thoughts about decisions made earlier in life. However, for today's 20-somethings, the future is a blank page. Make the most of it by listening to the wisdom of professionals who have gone before you.

Tell us: What money advice do you wish you could tell your 20-something self? 

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