OTTAWA – Complaining about bank fees is a bit like complaining about the weather. We all do it.
But unlike the weather, those in the know say Canadians can do something about the fees they pay their bank with a little negotiating and shopping around.
Alterna Savings branch manager Angela Dzinas said someone with more than one account as well as a mortgage and a line of credit all with the same bank may be in a position to have some fees waived.
“Loyalty counts a lot with financial institutions, so the more products and services you have with us does count for something,” Dzinas says.
“We typically try to work with our members and customers to deliver a package and a product that suits them and saves them money.”
But keeping fees to a minimum means picking the right account and that starts with understanding what you need.
Dzinas said you should think about often you use your bank card and what you use the account for. How often do you take out money from a bank machine and how often do you pay using your debit card? Do you need cheques? How many do you write?
For some, an account with no monthly fee that offers relatively few free transactions each month might be the right choice, while for others an account with a higher monthly fee, but more or unlimited transactions might end up being cheaper.
The editor of RateSupermarket.ca, which helps you compare bank fees and mortgage rates, said while a monthly fee may not seem like much, they can add up over time.
“If you’re paying let’s say $10 per account per month and you stay with the bank for a number of years, you’re potentially looking at thousands of dollars that you’re spending on fees,” Penelope Graham said.
The Financial Consumer Agency of Canada has an online tool to help you review the various options offered by Canada’s big banks and other financial institutions.
The website includes 243 products from 30 financial institutions and is updated regularly by banks and credit unions.
Agency spokeswoman Natasha Nystrom says the online tool allows you to narrow your search by account type and feature and then compare them.
“It is up to the consumer to really take a look and take an informed decision as to which account would best meet their needs and according to their habits,” she said.
Nystrom suggested Canadians looking to save may want to consider accounts that require a minimum balance, but carry no or a lower fee, or look for discounts if you have more than one account or financial product with a bank.
She says you shouldn’t be afraid to ask questions about things you don’t understand and be careful to read the fine print for your account.
“Really take the time to read your terms and conditions, to understand what you’re getting into,” she said.
The Royal Bank sparked outrage earlier this year when it decided to raise its fees including a change that will charge customers a fee to make a mortgage or other preauthorized payment if the customer had already used up all of their free transactions for a month.
However, the Royal Bank wasn’t alone. All of Canada’s big banks raised at least some of their fees by a lesser or greater degree in recent months.
But there are alternatives to the big banks including credit unions and online banks.
“The competitive landscape is much broader than it ever was,” Dzinas says.