Don't Let Maintenance Fees Ruin Your Automatic Savings Program

If you participate in an automatic savings program like Bank of America‘s Keep the Change service, where debit card purchases are rounded up and the difference is deposited into your savings account, keep an eye on maintenance fees. James says he was hit with a $5 charge last month because he hadn’t met the minimum monthly deposit requirement of $25: “It turns out that I wasn’t even accruing $5 worth of change per month, so I was losing more money due to the maintenance fee than I was saving via Keep the Change!”

A few years ago, I signed up for Bank of America’s “Keep the Change” program. With Keep the Change, every charge to your debit card is rounded up to the nearest dollar, and the difference is automatically deposited in your savings account. The idea is that you save a small amount with each purchase without even thinking about it, which gradually adds up over time.

So far, so good. However, somewhere along the line, Bank of America started charging a $5 monthly maintenance fee on the account. I was never formally notified of this additional fee, and so I didn’t even realize it until I noticed one month that my savings account balance had gone DOWN instead of up. It turns out that I wasn’t even accruing $5 worth of change per month, so I was losing more money due to the maintenance fee than I was saving via Keep the Change!

I called Bank of America and they explained that I could avoid the maintenance fee either by making a minimum deposit of $25 into the account each month, or by maintaining a minimum balance of $300 (I had $250). Of course, these terms aren’t detailed anywhere on their website (at least not that I could find); Keep the Change is described as a “free service,” and the only stipulation is that your savings account has an initial $25 balance.

In summary, if you prop up your savings account by depositing more money into it than you’ll ever realistically save with Keep the Change, you’ll avoid the fees – but then you might as well not even bother with the program in the first place. And if you don’t, you’ll never even reach the $300 balance on a new account as the maintenance fee could well end up costing you more than what you’re saving!

The easy solution: find out what you need to do to avoid maintenance fees on your savings account, and if you agree to the requirements, follow them every month.

In this case, scheduling a $25 transfer from checking to savings every month would suffice, but James never intended to use the service in that manner. Not every bank product is designed to eat up your money, but if you’re not careful you can get hit with unnecessary fees, so always take the time to look for ways the bank can charge you and then make sure you’re willing to do the opposite—or walk away from the offer.

Update: I failed to address James’ real issue, which is that he says BofA never told him about the fee. If your bank institutes a new monthly fee and doesn’t tell you about it, contact them and request a refund. If they refuse, tell them you plan on reporting them to the appropriate agencies, and then follow up on that threat. (You might also want to move your business elsewhere just on principal.) Banks do make mistakes whether they like to admit it or not, especially when they’re “too big to fail” and running themselves ragged trying to find new ways to generate revenue.

(Photo: Nieve44/La Luz)