‘A la Carte’ bank fees can add up

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As banks nickel-and-dime consumers on fees, customers are seeking more control over banking costs. Enter “a la carte” banking, which allows you to “design” your own checking account. Unfortunately, this approach isn’t without its perils, and you still have to read the fine print.

“The average checking account carries 49 different fees,” says Alex Matjanec of MyBankTracker.com. The a la carte approach seeks to cut fees by letting you choose your services and thus the fees that you incur. Although the base fees for a la carte checking accounts are less expensive, add-on fees still can pile up. “It really is a marketing tactic,” he says.

A few regional banks provide a la carte banking, but so far, Matjanec says, major banks aren’t following suit. Union Bank, which has locations in six states, rolled out its Banking by Design a la carte account in October 2012. The account costs $3 per month and lets customers add features, such as safe-deposit boxes and non-Union Bank ATM transactions, for between $1 and $6.50 per service per month. At Texas-based Frost Bank branches, a la carte checking carries a base fee of $5 per account per month. Other features cost another $2 each per month. (These fees are lower for customers who maintain at least $10,000 in combined deposits or who have had a Frost Bank account for at least 5 years.)

Matjanec believes that typical customers won’t save any more through a la carte checking than through traditional checking, but he says an a la carte account gives you the ability to control your account.