Banks are charging more, but smart consumers can avoid checking and debit card fees

SunTrust and Bank of America recently announced fees of $5 per month for debit card use.  Regions Bank hit up their customers for a $4 a month debit card charge. Others have eliminated debit card rewards and are raising checking account costs.

"We were upset and we are thinking of making a change to something else.  We use the debit card all the time," said Nancy Tourdo.

Many consumers are looking for alternatives to avoid shelling out extra money for what has always been a freebie. I got on the phone with the nation's 10 largest banks and found that in some cases, you can get around the fees.

At SunTrust, customers can switch to a solid choice checking account.  A minimum balance of $5000 is required to avoid a monthly or debit card fee.

Bank of America patrons can also get around charges for checking accounts and debit card use, but only if they maintain an average daily balance of $15,000.  That is not an option for many like Nereida Mercado. "I was banking with Bank of America, but I am not right now," she said.

Regions Bank told me there is no way to avoid their monthly debit card fee other than to stop using a debit card.

At Citi Bank, consumers can escape the $15 a month fee on their E-Z checking account by maintaining a $6,000 balance. Another option would be Citi's basic package and avoid a fee with a $1,500 balance.

There are other alternatives. You can switch all of your spending to cash and credit cards, assuming you plan to pay off the balance each month.

If you are willing to change banks, consider credit unions and internet banks. In general, they pay more interest than regular banks and typically charge fewer fees.

For comparison shopping, try Bankrate.com to looked at different bank rates.  If you are want to switch to a credit card, you can compare cards at Cardhub.com

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