Cutting bank fees in 2017

For the last 10 years, I have been with the same bank. I believed in being a loyal customer – surely my bank would look after me if they could see how steadfast my banking had been. But late last year I decided it was time to end the relationship.

This isn’t about naming and shaming, but I will say that I was banking with one of the Big Four banks. My ex-bank didn’t do anything wrong, exactly. It was just little things – I wasn’t a difficult customer, but my bank would charge monthly account fees for doing seemingly no work. The interest on my savings kept getting lower and lower. My online shopping purchases would sometimes not be processed for days, and then suddenly it would all be withdrawn at once, making budgeting difficult and leaving me with hefty (and unnecessary) overdrawn fines.

Then someone suggested that I should look at the online-only banks. These banks are still Australian, but because they don’t have physical branches, they can put that money into lower or no account fees and they offer attractive interest rates to try and entice brick-and-mortar bank customers over to the digital side.

I think it’s important to say here that I’m receiving no kick back or incentive of any kind for writing this. That’s because I’m about to name my new bank. There are many good online options, but I chose to go with ING Direct. You must be prepared to do all your banking online or over the phone, but with very little effort you can pay exactly $0 per year in account fees with ING and get a really good interest rate.

To enjoy these benefits, you need to deposit $1000 per month into one account (this is less than most monthly Centrelink payments) and they will waive account fees on all your accounts. Similarly, when you reach this amount they increase the interest on all your savings accounts to 3 per cent (a better rate than I could find almost anywhere else).

If this was the only benefit, I probably wouldn’t have named ING as my new banking beau. But just last week an automatic payment left one of my accounts overdrawn by $2.80. Previously, my Big Four bank would have charged me a $9 overdrawn fee without even notifying me. This time, ING sent me a lovely email, letting me know that the account was overdrawn, giving me three days to sort it out before they would charge me anything (and that anything was a lot less than $9). It was such a different experience – and such a pleasant surprise – that I felt it was worth sharing.

So, this year I won’t be paying any bank fees at all. It’s going to save me about $80 per year, and hopefully earn me a little bit more in interest. And as a bonus, it’s nice to be treated like a valued customer again.

What do you think? Could you give up your bank branch to avoid paying account fees? Do you trust these online-only banks or does it feel too impersonal not speaking to a real human being about your money?

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