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The 5 scariest bank fees (and how to avoid them)

Thinking of going to your bank this Halloween?

That may seem like an odd question, but when you take a look at bank fees these days, they are scary enough to make your bank into a Halloween haunted house. Not the fun kind though. You see, banks have tricks for stealing your treats.

Take a look at the line-up of scariest bank fees below - it's like the cast of a horror movie. Are you going to be a victim, or are you going to be the person in the movie who is wily enough to escape the monsters?

1. The stalker: Monthly checking account maintenance fees

Stalker scenarios in horror movies can start out casually enough. One day, you happen to notice someone a little creepy looking, but it's no big deal. The next day, there he is again. Then again and again, and it starts to add up - this is seriously scary.

Like that stalker, monthly checking account maintenance fees seem like no big deal at first, but then they start to add up because they are always there. These fees are charged month after month whether you use the account or not. According to the most recent MoneyRates.com checking account fee survey, these fees average $12.83 a month.

A fee of nearly thirteen (you knew that number had to come up when talking about Halloween) dollars may not seem particularly sinister, but it is the fact that these fees are always there that makes them scary. Over the course of the year these fees add up to an average of nearly $154, taking a huge bite out of your account balance.

How to escape this monster:

While most checking accounts these days charge a monthly maintenance fee, more than one out of every four do not - and more than two out of every three online accounts do not. So, choose a free checking account without monthly maintenance fees and this stalker will go away.

2. The serial killer: Overdraft fees

The thing about horror movies is not just the individual slayings but the sheer volume of them. Still, if you think Jason from the "Friday the 13th" movies had a high body count, he had nothing on overdraft fees.

Overdraft fees are bad enough on their own, at an average of $32.63 in the fee survey, but as with a horror movie serial killer its the way the offenses add up that is really scary. You see, once you overdraft your account, each individual transaction is assessed an overdraft fee until you put money back into the account. So if you make five purchases or withdrawals before you realize your account is overdrawn, that one mistake will cost you $163.15.

How to escape this monster:

You are allowed to opt out of overdraft protection. In fact, by law, all new checking accounts are now supposed to assume the customer has opted out unless that customer agrees otherwise. Banks try hard to get customers to sign on for overdraft protection because they love those fees, but you should insist on opting out. This will force you to develop better banking habits to keep your account in balance, and those good habits are like locking your doors and windows at night - they help keep trouble away.

3. The vampire: ATM fees

It usually costs you nothing to use an ATM that your bank owns or one that belongs to a network your bank is part of. But if you use an out-of-network machine, it will cost you a total of $4.55 in fees on average.

While $4.55 in fees may not seem like a big deal, if you habitually use out-of-network ATMs wherever you happen to find them - in the supermarket, bars, hotels, etc. - that seemingly modest expense can start to seriously drain your account. It's like a vampire that doesn't suck you dry all at once, but rather keeps you alive for a while in order to keep feeding on you.

How to escape this monster:

Make ATM location a factor when choosing a bank. Some online banks make it especially easy by reimbursing ATM fees. In any case, make sure you have access to no-fee machines that are convenient to you, and plan your cash withdrawals so you don't have to resort to using an out-of-network machine.

4. The zombie: Credit card interest

According to the Federal Reserve, the average rate charged on credit card balances recently reached 14.87 percent, the highest level in eight years.

Interest on a credit card balance is like a zombie, only it's not your brains this zombie is interested in eating, but your cash. If you maintain a credit card balance, even once you stop adding to that balance those interest charges just keep going like a zombie, steadily eating their way through your money.

How to escape this monster:

The best way to use credit cards is to pay your balance off in full every month. If you have a no-fee card, this allows you to use the money temporarily at no cost. Don't get suckered in by the minimum payment on your credit card statement - these are designed to prolong your balance so the interest zombie can keep feeding on it.

5. The body snatcher: Statement fees

Statement fees are one example of how banks have quietly introduced new fees in recent years for services that seem quite ordinary. Like the friends and neighbors in "Invasion of the Body Snatchers," your account may look the same as ever on the surface, but slowly you start to realize something is wrong. Little by little, your money is disappearing. It's not being snatched by pod people, but it's simply being taken by new fees.

How to escape this monster:

Scrutinize each statement to make sure some new fee hasn't been slipped in. If you can't get your bank to waive the fee or otherwise work around it, consider changing banks. After all, that bank may still look the same, but you can't really trust it any more.

Try applying these tricks and you'll find the money you save will buy you plenty of treats - not just for Halloween, but all year round.

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