Why it costs money to get your own money

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Banks are in the business of making money, and a lot of it — even if that means charging you to deal with money that’s yours.

From ATM fees to overdraft fees to maintenance fees, banks have all sorts of ways of extracting funds out of consumers. You go to an out-of-network ATM for cash and wind up paying a few extra dollars. You don’t have a ton of money in your checking account and notice your bank is charging you each month just to hold onto your (dwindling) funds. Maybe you screw up, accidentally try to spend money that isn’t in your account, and you get slapped with a $35 overdraft fee. Or you don’t have a bank account, need to cash a check, and the place where you do it winds up keeping a cut.

The whole thing can feel a little gross. Sure, banks are private businesses beholden to shareholders. At the same time, it’s hard not to look at the ways big and small they’re scooping up extra cash and think wait, what? Banks made $279.1 billion in 2021, up $132 billion from the year before.

“One might want to question whether the amount of fees that are being charged are necessary to cover the costs, given those levels of profit margins,” said Brian Shearer, senior adviser to the director at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), which recently launched an initiative to look into what it describes as “junk fees” from banks and financial institutions. “One, they add up and they really can have a substantial impact on consumers’ pocketbooks, and, two, we’re concerned that they distort the competitive process and have hindered overall competitive forces in banking.” The concern is that consumers aren’t able to effectively comparison shop because of practices such as drip pricing or hidden pricing that hide actual costs. Basically, if you’re looking for a new bank and on the back end there are all sorts of fees you don’t notice, you might not make the best choice for yourself — and banks won’t have to compete as hard for your business.


People at a pair of ATMs.Out-of-network ATM charges can make it pricey to withdraw your own money.Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images



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