A new Bankrate report shows that the cost of using an out-of-network ATM is growing. Here's how to avoid those charges completely.
Using an ATM that’s not run by your bank will now cost you about as much as a latte at Starbucks.
Consumers now fork over, on average, $4.35 per transaction on out-of-network ATMs, according to Bankrate.com’s just-released 17th annual checking survey. That’s a 5% jump over last year and a 23% increase over the past five years.
“ATM fees have been going up for a long time,” says Bankrate’s chief financial analyst Greg McBride. “It’s low hanging fruit for the banks.”
The fee you pay for these types of transactions comes from two sources: The ATM owner charges you a surcharge for using the machine, and your bank charges you for going out of network. The former fee advanced 7% to $2.77, while the latter climbed 3% to $1.58.
Together these costs add up to a decent chunk of change: One trip to a non-sanctioned ATM a month costs more than $50 a year.
For consumers, this is a completely unnecessary outlay, however.
“There are steps people can take to avoid ATM fees, regardless of how long they keep rising,” says McBride. “Plenty of people out there not paying fees at all.”
1. Have a Treasure Map in Hand
Download your bank’s mobile app, if you haven’t already. Chances are it contains a feature that lets you see nearby branch or ATMs that won’t charge a fee.
Make a habit of checking before you stick your card into somebody else’s ATM—there may be a cheaper option closer than you think.
2. Get Cash Where You Buy Your Groceries
Many stores—including pharmacies and supermarkets—allow you get cash back at the point of sale. If you’re getting something, why not also make a habit of getting cash on these trips, since this basically functions as a free ATM withdrawal.
3. Go with a Bank that Won’t Punish You
Not the type to remember to use your bank’s ATM? You might want to trade in your brick-and-mortar bank for an online one. Ally and Schwab do not charge you to use another bank’s ATM (since these institutions don’t have their own) and they will reimburse you for any ATM fees.
And since digital financial institutions don’t service branches, fees tend to be lower and you can even receive interest on your checking account. Ally currently offers 0.10% on balances under $15,000. In a way, you could say they’re paying you to use another bank’s ATM.
Make sure your weekend hobby doesn't wreak havoc on your budget—or your marriage.
Allison Lodish used to be a huge football fan.
Her affection for the game evaporated when her husband got fixated on fantasy football, a leisure pursuit where participants draft their own dream teams and compete against each other, based on how those players fare.
Before she knew it, he was in three leagues of fantasy football. Then, it became 10. “It was crazy,” says the 41-year-old personal stylist from California’s Marin County.
Crazy not just in terms of time expended, but money. Since many fantasy leagues charge fees for entering, trading players, or picking up free agents, the sums involved can be substantial.
At the height of her husband’s involvement, the hobby was costing north of $1,000 a year, Lodish estimates.
Indeed, the fantasy game has plenty of fans, with more than 41 million players in North America, according to the Fantasy Sports Trade Association. That’s up from 27 million in 2009, with the typical player dropping $111 a year on the hobby, and others, far more.
In an era of stagnant incomes and rising prices, it’s no wonder some spouses are alarmed by the amounts involved. The average player spends more than eight hours a week perfecting his or her team, the trade group says.
So, is there a fix for the obsession?
Experts say the first steps toward resolving familial conflicts around a fantasy sport involve turning off the TV for a few minutes and not obsessively checking statistics. Then, start working through marital differences that can easily spiral out of control.
“You have to figure out the crux of the problem,” says Sharon Epperson, CNBC’s personal finance correspondent and author of a financial advice book for couples, The Big Payoff. “It may be about the money, or it may have nothing to do with that. It may be the amount of time being spent away from the spouse or the children that is really annoying the other person.”
If a partner feels neglected, or the cash involved is being drawn from other family pots, that is a problem, says Matthew Berry, ESPN’s senior fantasy analyst and author of Fantasy Life, which chronicles the exploding interest in the field.
“Everything in moderation,” he says. “I don’t think fantasy football is different from any other couples issue. It’s about communication, and understanding what’s important to the other person.”
Here are some tips that may safeguard the family budget, or your marriage, from an unchecked fantasy-football fetish:
Family needs come first
“I don’t think spending money on fantasy sports is a bad thing—as long as you can afford it,” says Epperson, herself a devoted Pittsburgh Steelers fan who grew up watching greats like Franco Harris and Lynn Swann.
But if that cash is being siphoned from other critical needs, it’s a guaranteed recipe for marital discord. So before you sign up for multiple fantasy leagues, get your other bases covered.
Epperson’s advice: Stay current on all monthly bills, save 20% of your income in long-term vehicles like 401(k)s, and another 10% in short-terms savings like a household emergency fund. Then you can set aside 10% of income for “fun money”—and that’s where your fantasy-sports budget needs to come from.
Everyone likes to spend a little time and money on personal passions, whether it’s fantasy sports or designer shoes. And that’s okay – unless that information is being hidden from your significant other.
“It’s only a big deal if you are not telling your spouse,” says Epperson. “That’s like loading up a credit-card that your spouse doesn’t know about. That’s financial infidelity, and that’s a big problem in marriages.”
Involve your partner
If your spouse pushes back against your fantasy-football interest, take it as a compliment: They want to spend more time with you. So here’s an elegant solution: Get them involved, if you can.
“My advice is always, ‘Try it, you’ll love it,'” says ESPN’s Berry. “My wife now plays in my fantasy league. That way, Sunday becomes a day you can spend together, instead of apart.”
Hand over the winnings
If your spouse has zero interest in fantasy sports, here’s a novel approach: Pledge that any cash you win will go directly into their bank account.
“That’s what I did with my wife originally,” says Berry. “Whatever I won, she got to spend. So when I won my league, she got a brand new purse. It worked out great. Nowadays, if I’m falling behind in third place or something, she tells me to get it together and start studying up.”
Still, the outcome may not always be so collegial.
Allison Lodish eventually set up a website for fellow fantasy-sports “widows” and ended up splitting with her husband.
“It should be a fun game that brings people together,” she says. “But if it’s driving people apart, that is where you need to take a hard look at it.”
Cell phone carriers are battling for your business by cutting prices, ditching contracts, and offering to pay your fee to switch. Act fast to lock in your savings.
If you’re unhappy with your cell phone service—and really, who isn’t?—now might be a unique time to either renegotiate your contract or move to a new carrier.
Your window of opportunity may be short, however, as carriers have reached a crescendo in an escalating battle over prices and plans.
The mobile business started to change about a year and half ago, when T-Mobile first said it would ditch contracts and stop subsidizing phones.
In April, after some tit-for-tat between companies, T-Mobile said it was getting rid of its data overage charges and doubled the data that consumers were allotted, among other changes, and offered to pay the often-steep switching fees carriers can charge to break contracts.
AT&T responded by lowering some of its package prices and debuting a new line of no-contract plans. Verizon last month began offering a new $60 plan that previously would have cost users $90. Both companies also offered deals involving data shared by a family of users.
Then, last month, Sprint changed its offerings to include more data usage than its rivals were delivering at the same price. T-Mobile countered with a low-price starter plan of $45 that comes with 2GB of data. And with the iPhone 6 launch on the horizon, carriers are trying to lure in new business—or keep existing clients.
The result of these changes? Savings can be dramatic.
James Pillow, 41, of Orlando, Fla., was lured recently to switch from AT&T to T-Mobile’s $50 unlimited text, talk, and data plan (which limits users to 1GB of data over its 4G network).
Pillow, president of the sports apparel company FanCastle.com, says he had been spending $98 a month on cell phone bills and didn’t want to constantly worry about extra data usage. Now his bills are $57. He had evaluated smaller companies, but says he was concerned about the reliability of their coverage.
“Since I travel with my job and with my family, it made sense to chose a national company with a national tower network for better coverage,” Pillow says.
To best take advantage of the offers, you need to go through the complicated math, as cell phone carriers notoriously make their packages difficult to compare.
Also, the best plan for you depends on how much data you want, whether you already own a phone and the number of users tied to your contract.
Here’s how to evaluate the offers:
Study Your Bills
What if you merely think you’re getting a bad deal? To know for sure, take the last six to 12 bills from your current service and see what you really use, says Jon Colgan, who runs a service called Cellbreaker.com that helps consumers break their contracts.
Ask yourself: How many minutes a month do you use the phone? How much do you text? How much data do you consume?
Pay attention to the fine print. A $100 plan doesn’t necessarily mean your bill will be $100. To know what your charges will actually be, you can go to a website like MyRatePlan.com or Whistleout.com to sort out what options you have within the parameters you’ve set.
Changing plans isn’t always necessary, says Jeff Kagan, an Atlanta-based industry analyst. The first place to start is with your own carrier. Make a simple, friendly phone call asking for a better deal.
“Don’t go in as an adversary. Go in as a partner,” he says.
The typical customer can expect to see their rate drop by 20% to 30%, Kagan says. If you have a particularly poor deal for your usage pattern, like paying per text when you’re a serial texter, you should be able to save far more.
Make the requests annually, Kagan says, rather than waiting for the end of a contract.
Your business could be worth something to a competitor, and without penalties, moving could be in your best interest.
“The ideal person to take advantage of this is someone whose commitment has ended,” says Northeastern University finance professor Harlan Platt.
That’s what Holly Johnson, 34, of Noblesville, Ind., did to find a good deal for her cell service last year. Johnson, who writes the ClubThrifty.com blog, switched her husband’s phone for the second time in two years, from Verizon to a local discount carrier to Republic Wireless, a carrier that relies on the use of WiFi to control costs.
Johnson says the bill is now $25 a month for a plan that includes unlimited talk, text and data, while the previous Verizon bill topped $100 a month.
One warning for consumers is that even though some carriers have limited-time offers to offset costs you incur for changing plans, there may be other hidden charges. Platt warns that carriers now try to lock in consumers by selling them phones on a payment plan.
Instead, you can go to a retail website that sells prepaid phones, like Amazon.com, and purchase one that will work on the company’s network that you’ll be using. That will ensure you’re a free agent and can move to another carrier of there’s a more tempting deal.
“There’s nothing special about AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, or Verizon,” Platt says. “They provide a commodity. What consumers need to do is make those phone calls and get the bills down.”
On Tuesday, President Obama will announce more efforts by the U.S. to lead a global battle against the spread of the deadly virus+ READ ARTICLE
Updated at 4:34 p.m. ET
The United States is dramatically escalating its efforts to combat the spread of Ebola in West Africa, President Barack Obama announced Tuesday, during a visit to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.
The unprecedented response will include the deployment of 3,000 U.S. military forces and more than $500 million in defense spending drawn from funding normally used for efforts like the war in Afghanistan, senior administration officials outlined Monday. Obama has called America’s response to the disease a “national-security priority,” with top foreign policy and defense officials leading the government’s efforts.
The officials said Obama believes that in order to best contain the disease, the U.S. must “lead” the global response effort. In the CDC’s largest deployment in response to an epidemic, more than 100 officials from the agency are currently on the ground and $175 million has been allocated to West Africa to help combat the spread of Ebola. Those efforts will be expanded with the assistance of U.S. Africa Command, which will deploy logistics, command and control, medical, and engineering resources to affected countries.
Officials said that the Department of Defense is seeking to “reprogram” $500 million in funding from the department’s “overseas contingency operations” fund to assist in the response. Obama has also requested another $88 million from Congress for the U.S. response, including $58 million to expedite the development of experimental treatments for Ebola.
The Pentagon will deliver 130,000 sets of personal protective equipment, thousands of kits used to test for the disease, two additional mobile lab units (one is already on the ground), and a 25-bed mobile hospital to the region. In addition, Africa Command engineers will construct additional treatment units, while the others set up a training center for to educate up to 500 health workers per week. The United States Agency for International Development will also airlift tens of thousands of home health kits and protection kits, including disinfectants and protective equipment, to be delivered to communities affected by the outbreak.
The U.S. effort, named Operation United Assistance, will be based out of Monrovia, Liberia, the country hardest hit by the Ebola epidemic and where the disease is currently spreading fastest, and will be commanded by an Army general. Obama’s announcement follows weeks of calls from global health organizations that global assistance, in particular American help, is needed to address the disease.
The World Health Organization announced last week that as of Sept. 7, there have been 4,366 confirmed, suspected, or probable cases of the disease, with 2,218 deaths. More troubling is the pace of infections, which has steadily risen despite local, regional, and international containment efforts. The WHO has predicted “thousands” of new infections in the coming weeks, calling on the global community to make an “exponential increase” in its response efforts.
U.S. officials have maintained that there is a minimal threat to the United States from the disease, but Obama warned in an interview earlier this month with NBC’s Meet The Press that failing to act could elevate the risk to the nation. “If we don’t make that effort now, and this spreads not just through Africa but other parts of the world, there’s the prospect then that the virus mutates,” Obama said. “It becomes more easily transmittable. And then it could be a serious danger to the United States.”
While the affected countries have imposed screenings at their airports to stop infected individuals from boarding aircraft, U.S. officials outlined efforts to build up detection and prevention capabilities at home, including new training efforts for airline employees and flight attendants to spot ill passengers. Customs and Border Protection officers manning ports of entry to the U.S. have also received additional training to spot potentially infected travelers. Currently the disease can only be spread by direct contact with the bodily fluids of infected patients.
U.S. officials said that in addition to the potential for the disease to spread to the U.S., they are concerned by economic, security, and political instability in countries heavily affected by the outbreak.
Earlier this month, Obama released a video to the people of West Africa, raising awareness about the disease.
Okay, you may not want to give up drinking just to save a buck. But if you're having trouble trimming your budget, add up what you're spending on wine, beer, and liquor. You may find the numbers sobering.
Would you give up alcohol to help balance the family budget?
I posed that very question on social media recently. These were some of the answers I got:
“Gosh no – it’s what gets us through the week.”
“As if that would ever happen.”
And so on, in the same vein. Most responses ranged from sarcastic to outright incredulous.
But one other answer stood out, which got to the heart of the matter:
“I quit drinking – and it was like we won the lottery!”
And there’s the rub. We all tend to complain, in an era of stagnant incomes and rising prices, about how we just can’t make ends meet. There is just no place we could possibly find more savings.
But is that really true? Consider this: The average U.S. household spent $445 on wine, beer, and spirits in 2013, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That amounts to roughly 1% of our household expenditures, and it compares with an average household figure of $268 in 1993.
That is more than we spend on all nonalcoholic beverages combined, by the way. Keep in mind those averages include nondrinkers, too. That means some households are spending much, much more than that already-hefty average on alcohol.
So let’s be honest with ourselves. It is not always the case that we can’t squeeze any more savings out of our budgets. It is that we choose not to, because we just don’t want to give up the booze.
When New York City’s Jenna Hollenstein sat down one day and calculated what her drinking was costing her, she was shocked.
The 39-year-old dietician used to enjoy a nice bottle of wine or some gin after work, and it was starting to add up. “Even if it was only a $15 bottle of wine, three times a week, that was $45,” she remembers. “That’s $180 a month, or over $2,000 a year.
“That’s a significant amount of money—and that’s not even including going out for cocktails with friends.”
Hollenstein finally decided to give up her pricey habit, and even wrote a book on her experiences, Drinking to Distraction. But she is hardly alone in having a taste for a nip after work.
After all, 64% of American adults report drinking occasionally, according to Gallup’s most recent poll on consumption habits. Through boom times and bust, one of our most consistent national traits is that we enjoy our booze, and are not willing to give it up.
“We’ve been asking this question since the 1930s, and the numbers are remarkably constant,” says Frank Newport, Gallup’s editor in chief. “Even in an era of huge demographic changes, the percentage of drinkers just doesn’t seem to budge.”
Our Beverage of Choice
Beer is America’s beverage of choice, by the way, followed by wine and then spirits. The average drinker enjoys a shade over four alcoholic beverages a week, according to the Gallup poll.
But 9% of people have more than eight drinks over the same period, and 5% of folks are guzzling more than 20. And that can get very expensive indeed—especially if you do your drinking in restaurants or bars with high markups.
We might not even realize how much we are spending on this habit, since it drips out in relatively small increments—a beer or two here, a carafe of wine there. Personal-finance expert Tiffany Aliche, author of The One Week Budget, suggests forcing yourself to do the math—just as Hollenstein did—before tossing back yet another nightcap.
“Let’s say you drink three nights a week and spend $30 each time,” she says. “That’s over $4,000 a year, or as much as a trip to Paris or Rome.”
It is not an all-or-nothing proposition, notes Aliche, who is not a drinker herself. You don’t have to become a teetotaler in order to realize massive savings. “Instead of drinking three times a week, just drink twice—and then go on your vacation, too,” she advises.
As for Hollenstein, who had a long and complex relationship with alcohol, she thought it was best to give up drinking altogether. She did not necessarily do it for the money—but when she did, she noticed that her finances changed overnight.
“As soon as I gave it up, the money thing became so clear,” she says. “Drinking was just a mindless, habitual thing I did on a daily basis. And I didn’t really notice it—until I got my credit card bill or looked at my bank account.”
Cause for concern?
Almost two-thirds of young adults today don’t have a credit card, but maybe that’s for the best, given their sweeping lack of know-how about this common financial tool.
Although Americans of all ages are less reliant on debt since the recession, millennials are far and away the most credit-averse age group. Bankrate finds that, among adults 30 years old and older, only about a third don’t have any credit cards at all. New research from Bankrate.com finds that 63% of millennials, defined as adults under the age of 30, don’t have any credit cards. Among those who do, 60% revolve balances from month to month, and 3% say they don’t bother to pay at all — more than any other age group.
There’s a good possibility that these young adults aren’t irresponsible, though, just misinformed. BMO Harris Bank recently conducted a survey that found almost four in 10 adults under the age of 35 think carrying a balance improves your credit score (it doesn’t). And roughly one out of four say they don’t check their credit score more than once every few years. Perhaps that’s because a third of them think checking your credit score hurts your credit (again, it doesn’t). BMO found that 25% of young adults don’t know even know what their credit score is.
And young adults also think it takes much less to get a good credit score. BMO finds that, overall, most Americans think a score of 660 or higher is a “good” score. In reality, that may have been true pre-recession, but it isn’t anymore. BMO says a good score is one that falls in the 680 to 720 range. Millennials, though, believe than anything above a 625 means you have good credit — a misconception that could cost them in the form of higher interest rates on credit cards and loans.
Millennials are also more likely than any other age group to think that store credit cards don’t count towards your score and that the credit card companies control their scores.
In reality, it’s up to the individual to maintain their credit score, and if millennials continue along not bothering to learn the essentials of credit and how to use it responsibly, they could end up paying for it in the form of lost borrowing opportunities or higher interest rates, Jeanine Skowronski, Bankrate’s credit card analyst, warns in a statement.
“The responsible use of credit cards is one of the easiest ways to build a strong credit score, which is essential for qualifying for insurance policies, auto and mortgage loans, and sometimes even a job,” she says.
Your checking account could be bleeding you dry
Just when you thought banks couldn’t get any stingier, the number of banks offering free checking has fallen below 50%, a drop of around 10 percentage points in only a year. Now, want to hear the bad news?
Depending on your usage habits and how much money you have, the price you pay for that account could be an eyebrow-raising $700-plus.
As of June, roughly 48% of banks offered free checking, according to financial research company Moebs $ervices, compared to just over 58% a year earlier. “The Banks are exiting Free Checking because it is too costly,” says Mike Moebs, CEO and economist of Moebs $ervices. The number of credit unions offering free checking fell by a fraction of a percentage point, but nearly 80% still offer free checking.
Not only is free checking harder to find, but a new survey from personal finance site WalletHub.com finds that the privilege of having an account can run into the hundreds of dollars — and banks make the most off customers who are financially struggling or who travel to or send money to other countries most often.
According to a new analysis of 65 different checking accounts offered by the 25 biggest banks, the average annual cost for a checking account runs for just under 18 bucks — that’s for “old school” customers who don’t bank online, use paper checks, never use another bank’s ATM or overdraw their accounts — to $499 and change for the customer segment WalletHub characterizes as “cash-strapped;” that is, those who overdraw and don’t have direct deposit. The bite is the most serious for these customers who have the M&T Free Checking account; WalletHub says this would cost a person with these usage patterns a whopping $735.
Within those averages, though, there’s a lot of variability, and WalletHub points out that just because a bank may offer a good deal for one customer segment doesn’t mean that they’ll be equally affordable for customers with different banking habits.
For instance, it finds that the First Republic Classic Checking account is the best deal at a (still pricey) $185 or so a year for internationally-oriented customers, but it’s the most expensive of the bunch for the consumer groups WalletHub classifies as “young and high-tech” and “everyday Joe,” with annual costs of roughly $300 and $397, respectively. Customers whose living or job situations change drastically could find that the bank account they always counted on suddenly becomes a money pit.
Overall, WalletHub dubs USAA the most affordable in its checking account offerings, with, Capital One and Union Bank, respectively, behind it. The priciest overall choice is M&T Bank, and the second-most-expensive Fifth Third.
Shoes! Underwear! A motorcycle! Watch people tell our Mannes on the Street about the last treats they bought for themselves.
Hint: It wasn't Barack Obama
When looking at the United States’ massive amount of national debt, many Americans focus blame directly on the president. In fact, CNN surveyed 1,010 adults nationwide earlier this year and found that 44% still believe that President Bush and the Republican party were “primarily responsible for the country’s current economic problems.”
But was it this former president who left the country in its worst shape at the end of his two terms? With data provided by the White House Office of Management and Budget and the Council of Economic Advisors, research engine FindTheBest ranked the 14 most recent presidents by the total deficit they accrued during their presidencies—so far, in the case of Barack Obama—as a percentage of the Gross Domestic Product of their time in office.