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A Bank Fee You Can Easily Avoid

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#1 pangya88


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Posted 09 October 2005 - 07:27 PM

A Bank Fee You Can Easily Avoid
SmartMoney Magazine

A Bank Fee You Can Easily Avoid
SmartMoney Magazine
By Kelli B. Grant
September 28, 2005

CONSUMERS WHO USE Microsoft Money or Intuit's Quicken love the way the software programs help them manage their finances. One of the biggest perks is that the programs can sync with financial institutions to help users track their bank accounts and investments.

It's too bad that many banks charge for online access. Bank of America, for example, hits customers with a $9.95 monthly fee for accessing their accounts via Microsoft Money or Quicken. Over time, that can really add up.

Fee? What Fee?
There's little rhyme or reason as to which financial institutions charge fees, and how much they charge. (See our chart below for details.).

Among the companies that charge, some offer a flat monthly rate, while others charge a low base rate and tack on additional fees per download. Some will waive the fee if you have a certain type of account or a high average daily balance, and others fold the access fees into a larger charge for all online services. Access or download fees are determined entirely by the financial institutions, say spokespeople from Microsoft and Intuit.

Why charge at all? Since Money and Quicken let you pay bills online for free, many financial institutions' fees mimic what they charge for their own online banking system.

Avoiding the Fee
You can skip the fee in two ways: You enter your information into your program of choice manually a tedious, time-consuming task or you can shop around for a deal. Here are some tips:

* Make your overall finances top priority. Don't look at the software access fees in isolation when choosing a bank. Sure, access might be free, but you may have received that perk in addition to poor customer service, a low interest rate on your savings account or high fees in other areas.

* Read the fine print. Banks tend to advertise their online services as free, and only mention in the footnotes that account management using Quicken or Money is actually classified as a separate service. You don't want to sign up for an account and then realize the free money management software access applies only if you have a high average daily balance.

* Use your software as a guide. Money and Quicken list financial institutions that support their software. Most banks support both, but a few choose one or the other. If you already have the software, chances are you want to go with a bank that supports it.

Some good news: most brokerages don't charge a fee for this service. Here's what you can expect to pay at some major banks*:


Bank of America, Microsoft Money or Quicken, $9.95 a month for personal accounts.

JP Morgan Chase, Microsoft Money or Quicken, $9.95 a month for customers with a Chase Premier One interest-bearing account, and $6.95 for all other personal accounts. Customers in Texas will pay $5.95 a month for unlimited connections.

Citibank, Microsoft Money or Quicken, Free. If you use either program to pay bills through your Citibank account, however, you will be charged $9.95 a month.

HSBC, Microsoft Money or Quicken, Free.

SunTrust Banks, Microsoft Money or Quicken, $5.95 a month for PC banking. $9.95 a month for PC banking with bill pay.

U.S. Bancorp, Microsoft Money or Quicken, Free.

Wachovia, Microsoft Money or Quicken, Free.

Washington Mutual, Microsoft Money or Quicken, Free.

Wells Fargo, Microsoft Money or Quicken, $3 a month for online banking through the program. For online bill pay through either program, the first two months are free; you'll pay $6.95 a month thereafter.
* List of the biggest U.S. banks, based on deposits. Source: American Banker.

Safety First
Of course, if you opt to download your financial information, you open yourself up to security concerns. Should someone hack into your computer, all of your financial information could be stolen or exposed. "It would make impersonating you very easy," warns David Maynor, a security researcher at Atlanta-based Internet Security Systems Inc.

Microsoft and Intuit say they take security seriously. Both programs use complex encryption, and never keep all of your information on your hard drive. So, for example, a program might store your bank username and account number, but not your password or PIN.

Maynor says that's not enough many viruses, spyware programs and worms target Quicken and Microsoft Money files. He advises you to take precautions when downloading information and storing it.

* Downloading. It's less common for thieves to capture information in transit, called a man-in-the-middle attack, but it does happen. Download your account information only at home, where you can control the security. Even at work, your employer might be monitoring your computer use, and might inadvertently capture some of your personal data.

* Storage. To keep your information safe, make sure you stay up to date with your computer system security patches. You should also install a good firewall and regularly update your virus program. Your best bet is not to store the financial information on your computer at all. Instead, keep it on a secondary storage device such as a disk or a flash memory plug-in.