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How to Avoid Overdraft Fees

How to Avoid Overdraft Fees


    The crash of 2008 was supposed to be a wakeup call to the dangers of negligent lending and irresponsible credit use. Yet, financial institutions continue to sell naïve customers on expensive credit products like overdraft protection.  Sold as an “essential” account add-on, Overdraft promises to protect clients for overdrawn funds on their account.

    In a recent article on Time.com, Martha C. White writes about the $30 billion in profits American banks have made from overdraft fees in 2011.

    “Once overdrawn, customers are subject to high interest rates and outlandish fees. For some customers the deficit is a permanent and damaging fixture in their account, setting themselves up for larger and more destructive financial issues..”

    Avoid the fees and exorbitant interest rates that accompany short-term credit products by being better prepared for account shortfalls.

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    Solid Financial Planning

    Financial institutions need to reorganize their priorities. Instead of focusing on credit products, banks need to emphasize sound financial planning and offer unbiased advice to their clients.

    Sadly, a simple inquiry at a bank can result in an undisclosed credit check, an offer for a pre-approved mortgage, and unsolicited preapproved credit card offers. Never agree to take on a financial obligation without taking the time to understand its impact on your financial and mental well-being.

    Protect yourself by developing a long-term relationship with a personal banker or financial advisor that is acting in your best interests, not the banks.

    Do you have overdraft protection?

    Remarkably, most customers are unaware that they have overdraft protection until they take a closer look at their account activity. For some, it can be years before they realize that they are paying for a service they never use.

    Remember, you are under no obligation to sign up for any service you do not want. This includes any products that the bank wants to bundle with an account opening or credit offer. Tied selling laws in Canada and the United States prohibit financial institutions from forcing you to buy an unrelated product in order to obtain another product.

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    Overdraft Protection

    The key to any budget is avoiding the small incidental costs that can accumulate over time and ruin your financial projections. This means that you have to avoid any additional services that are going to cost you fees or charge you interest.

    The first rule, is always keep your account in a positive balance.

    While easier said than done, examining your transaction history will allow you to see how, and where, you are spending your money. Sometimes, the reason for overdrawing your account can be as simple as bill payments not aligning with your paycheck. A quick solution is to call your bank and make sure your bills line up with your pay schedule.

    Other times, shortfalls in an account are the result of frivolous spending. After examining your account history, it will be apparent where you are spending your money. People are conscious of the large purchases and the essential bill payments, but smaller expenses seem so insignificant that you fail to consider them when examining your spending. Once you tally up the coffee and fast food purchases, you can see how they can push your account into the negative.

    Most importantly, be diligent in finding pre-authorized payments. Without checking, you may be paying for a long forgotten gym membership or a cancelled subscription to AOL’s dialup service.

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    Be alert

    No matter how diligent you are about money management, there is always going to be scenarios that are out of your control.

    Both financial institutions and financial software packages like Mint.com allow you to create alerts that will send you a text, phone, or email message when your account is low on funds.  Besides low fund alerts, you can also program some of these services to alert you to unauthorized debits from your account. Therefore, allowing you a chance to correct an error before a payment comes out.

    Going Old School

    Using cash is a great way to avoid account shortfalls. Based on the information you gleam from your transaction history create a cash budget for each week. This way you always know that a certain amount of money will be in the account to cover bill payments.

    Unless you are reviewing your transactions on a daily basis, you will find that you will unconsciously spend more with a debit card than you would with cash.

    Other strategies include avoiding preauthorized payments. By collecting all your bills and paying them one by one, you can gain a clearer picture of your financial health.  If you choose to go analog, be sure to be diligent about making your payments. Otherwise, a missed mortgage, insurance or vehicle loan payment can have devastating financial ramifications.

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    Emergency and Reserve Funds

    Instead of opening a single checking account, open a companion savings account. Dedicate yourself to putting away at least 20% of your paycheck into the new account. The account will allow you to limit your spending, and give you a financial cushion in case of a budgetary miscalculation or bank error.

    Make sure you have the ability to transfer money between the accounts at an ATM, or through online banking.  At any time, you can sure up a low or overdrawn account with the appropriate amount of money and avoid the need for costly Overdraft protection.

    In order to serve as a proper reserve or overdraft account, you need to maintain a months’ worth of mortgage, insurance, and loan payments.

    Conclusion

    In summary, good money management starts with taking responsibility for your spending and controlling what comes in and out of your checking account on a monthly basis. Once, you understand the problem, you can make adjustments to fix any issues and create a backup plan that protects your hard earned money and allows you to avoid any additional credit debt.

    (Photo credit: Fees in Wooden Letters via Shutterstock)

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    Published on September 17, 2018

    How Being Smart With Your Money Leads to Financial Success

    How Being Smart With Your Money Leads to Financial Success

    Achieving financial success is not something that just happens. Maybe if you win the lottery or something, but for the average person like you or me, it comes from a series of small steps you take over a long period of time.

    With each step, you form a new smart money habit. And with each smart money habit, you build towards financial independence.

    So what sort of habits can you form to get on that path? Let’s take a look at smart money habits you can start today to get you closer to a financially independent future.

    1. Avoid being “penny wise but pound foolish”

    It’s tempting to try saving a couple cents here and there when buying small items. However, that’s not where the real money is saved. You’re putting in extra effort for something that doesn’t move the needle.

    You get the most bang when you’re able to cut down on your bigger bills. For example, finding a lower interest rate for your mortgage could save you $50+ per month. And cutting your transportation bill by purchasing a cheaper car or taking public transportation can provide large gains as well.

    So, look at your recurring expenses such as housing, transportation, and insurance, and see where there’s wiggle room. It’s a much better use of your time than trying to pinch pennies here and there on smaller purchases.

    2. When you want something big, wait

    Impulsivity can get you in trouble in most aspects of life. Finances are no different.

    It’s human nature to see something and want it right then and there. It starts as a kid in the checkout line at the grocery store, and it continues on through adulthood.

    We get an idea in our head of something we want, and it’s hard not to go out and get it right then.

    A good example is wanting a new car. Perhaps you’ve had your car for several years. It’s crossed the 100k mile mark. Maybe maintenance is due, and you’re annoyed that you need to replace the timing belt or purchase new tires.

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    So, you get the itch.

    You start digging around online, and you realize you could trade in your current car for something newer and more exciting… all for a few hundred bucks a month. Then you get obsessed.

    Here’s where you have to take a step back.

    Your newfound obsession is clouding your judgement. Rather than giving into the impulse, wait it out.

    Set a timeframe for yourself. Maybe you come back to the decision three months down the road. See if the obsession lasts.

    It might, but often, a funny thing happens. Often, you forget about it. And often, you find that the new car wasn’t a need at all.

    The impulse faded. And you just saved yourself a ton of money.

    3. Live smaller than you can afford

    You finally get that big raise. And you want to celebrate – and why not?

    You’ve been looking forward to this forever. And after all, it was all due to your hard work.

    That’s fine, splurge a little. However, make it a one-time deal and be done.

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    Don’t get caught in the trap that just because you’re now making more money, you should spend more.

    Too often, people get more money and feel like they that gives them the means to buy a bigger house, a bigger car… you know the drill. Resist.

    The fact is that living smaller than what you can afford is one of the fastest ways to build savings.

    But if you constantly upgrade as you begin to make more, then you’ll never get ahead. You’ll just build up more debt along the way and have just as little wiggle room as before.

    4. Practice smart grocery shopping

    Food… it’s one of the biggest portions of any budget. And if you’re not careful, it can be one of the biggest drains on your wallet.

    But luckily, there are a few things you can do to ensure that you stay smart with your money when buying groceries.

    Create a grocery budget

    Set a strict weekly grocery budget. When you know how much you can spend on groceries, you can then plan your weekly menu around it.

    Once you know what all you need, you can go shopping and keep a running tally as you shop to ensure you’re on track.

    I tend to do this in my head, rounding for each item. However, writing it down as you go would probably work best for most people.

    Make a list… and never deviate

    Never go to the grocery store without a list. If you go to the store with a ballpark idea in mind, you don’t have a true ide of what you need.

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    You’re not well-researched. You don’t know what the sales are. As a result, you’re going to make decisions on the fly.

    These impulse decisions will lead to overspending, which will derail your grocery budget.

    Eat before going grocery shopping

    It’s also important to eat prior to going to the grocery store. Hunger is a powerful force.

    If you’re shopping on an empty stomach, everything is going to look good. In particular, you may find a lot of ready-made, processed snacks will look enticing.

    After all, you’re hungry now and that food is easily available. So subconsciously, you may lean towards those items.

    Unfortunately, not only are those items typically less healthy, but they’re likely more expensive. You pay for convenience.

    However, when you eat prior to shopping, then you’ll shop with a clear mind. Your hunger won’t cloud your judgement, influencing you to make poor decisions like a cartoon devil resting on your shoulder whispering in your ear.

    This makes it much easier to stick to your grocery plan.

    5. Cancel your gym membership

    Now that you’re all set on your food, it’s time to get smart about managing your budget in terms of physical fitness. And let’s begin by avoiding the gym. The gym bill, that is.

    The average gym membership costs around $60 per month. That’s $720 a year.

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    Yet, two out of three gym memberships go unused. That means two-thirds of people who have a gym membership are literally giving away almost a thousand bucks a year. It’s crazy!

    I recommend seeking an alternative. One good alternative is to look into fitness streaming services.

    Streaming services allow you to stream hundreds of workouts like Insanity and p90x, right in your own home for around $10-20 a month. That’s $40-50 less a month than the average gym membership.

    Of course, then there’s the free option. The internet is full of free workouts that you can do on your own with minimal or no equipment.

    For example, there’s the Couch to 5K program, that I personally used a decade ago to ease myself from couch potato to running my first 5K race. If I could do it, anyone could.

    Then there are free resources like reddit that have limitless information on workouts. The Fitness subreddit has done all the research for you, populating workout tips and detailed workout routines for anyone to use in their wiki.

    There are several routines that require no equipment. And you can join in on the subreddit to become part of the community, making it easier for those seeking comraderie and encouragement in their fitness goals. All for free.

    It’s baby steps… And baby steps can start now!

    I’ve never met anyone that can’t stand to be a bit smarter with their money. And on the flip side, anyone can get smarter with their money. But remember, it doesn’t happen all at once.

    Begin by fighting your impulses. Prepare for the week and be smart at the store. And cut monthly expenses like gym memberships that are overpriced and you probably aren’t getting your money’s worth out of anyway.

    The devil is in the details. And the details can change your lifestyle and prep you for a financially independent future.

    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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