Q: What’s the difference between ignorance and apathy?
A: I don’t know, and I don’t care.
This well-known joke aptly describes the relationship some of us have with our banks.
While bank account fees only represent 5-7 per cent of gross bank revenues, they are always a focal point of angst against the banks - especially after quarterly earnings reports from our big banks seem to showcase ever-increasing profits. According to the Canadian Bankers Association, there are over 100 bank account packages to choose from, including accounts with no monthly fees.
Amanda Lang, a fellow member of a financial issues panel on CBC television, recently asserted that the bank Canadians use is often determined by which one had the closest branch to us as kids. I agree. There is a very high level of inertia when it comes to our banking. But that inertia can come at a cost.
The average household might be spending a few hundred dollars a year on banking fees. While some families actually have accounts at all the big five banks, I’ve found that having two financial institutions is the sweet-spot. If your bank has one of those system-wide glitches that paralyzes access to your account on a day when you need to make a transaction, it can be a hassle. But if you have your card compromised, it can be a few days to get everything re-activated and sorted out. That’s more than just a hassle. So having a backup, ideally a zero cost option, is prudent.
Virtual lenders, with no or few bricks and mortar branches to visit, are a great option. With many offering accounts without monthly fees, they can be ideal for setting up goal-oriented savings accounts while at the same time acting as a no-cost back up for your other accounts.
Some people have made virtual lenders their primary bank, a trend that should continue given that many young Canadians perform the majority of their banking online. While I can no longer put myself into the “young” category, virtually 100 per cent of my banking is done from my computer or phone.
Not everyone is ready to switch banks, but you can also save money by examining your banking package and making sure you aren’t paying for services you don’t need. Most banks’ websites include a tool that helps you pick the right package based on your transaction history. You can always call or visit someone to help you go over your options as well. But if you are willing to cast a wider net, the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada has a banking package selector tool that can help you compare almost all the options at all the institutions available to you.
Not knowing how your bank account fees add up might be ignorant, choosing to do nothing about them is apathetic.
Preet Banerjee, a personal finance expert, is the host of Million Dollar Neighbourhood on The Oprah Winfrey Network. You can read his blog at WhereDoesAllMyMoneyGo.com and follow him on Twitter at @preetbanerjee.