How New Bank Fees Drive Competition—and Where to Go for Savings

New bank fees raise consumer blood pressure, but they'll help create a better market for basic banking. Here are three places to find a better deal.

Bank of America’s recent decision to institute a $5 monthly fee for using a debit card has customers up in arms: Enough of the bank's nearly 40 million checking customers flooded Bank of America's website with complaints to temporarily shut it down. The single largest bank in the country is trying to deflect their ire onto the government: If financial regulators hadn’t limited what banks charge customers in overdraft fees and retailers for debit card swipes, they wouldn’t have to charge consumers for basic services.

Believe the bank, then, and you’ll blame the ding to your wallet on the Obama administration's socialism. A wary consumer, though will check the facts and learn that a lot of other financial institutions, operating under the same rules as Bank of America and the other banking behemoths that dominate most of the market, still somehow manage to offer free checking.

We’ve heard a lot about financial innovation since the crash in 2008, but we haven’t seen a lot of innovation on the consumer side. Part of the reason for that is that many of the costs of banking were hidden, whether they were rapidly escalating overdraft fees on customers or retail charges customers never saw. With fees becoming more transparent, customers will have an easier time seeing which institutions deliver more savings their way, increasing competition to the big banks trying to squeeze retail customers to make up for losses in other departments (BofA, for example, has been hurt by the loans it took on when it bought Countrywide).

That competition is going to come from three different spheres. If you want a bank that makes more sense for your budget, here’s where to look:

1) Up-and-Coming Banks. These are the regional players that aspire to be the next Bank of America, working harder and deploying resources to win over their customers. When I got sick of Bank of America’s fees a few years ago, I found my way to PNC, a Pittsburgh-based bank with a presence in 16 states on the Eastern Seaboard. It still offers free checking and an innovative online banking platform called the Virtual Wallet that helps you manage your money. On the other coast, Bank of the West, with presence in 19 states, offers free checking to anyone who gets a direct deposit or uses a debit card ten or more times a month.

2) Credit Unions. The place to go for sane banking. Credit unions, which operate as member-owned savings and lending companies, provide some of the best terms available for their customers, who, after all, “own” the institution. The most recent data available (PDF) shows that the average credit union offers better savings and lending rates than the average bank. Want to get in on the game? You can find your local credit union with this handy tool—it only took me a second to find the Water and Power Community Credit Union, which is open to anyone who lives in Los Angeles and offers a free checking account. You’ll find similar institutions all around the country, and depending on where you work or what organizations you are a part of, you can find well-tailored deals.

3) Online banks. There are a number of online banks that take advantage of the internet’s efficiencies (like not needing tellers or brick-and-mortar locations) to deliver savings to consumers. Ally Bank, formerly General Motors’ financial arm, offers an interest-bearing checking account with no monthly maintenance or ATM fees. Charles Schwab Bank also offers a free checking account that is linked to an online brokerage account. Both options provide FDIC-insured checking and debit card access at a much more attractive cost than what Bank of America might offer. Also, keep your eyes on next-big-thing-in-waiting Bank Simple, which promises a major evolution in online retail banking.

via The Howard Stern Show / YouTube

Former Secretary of State, first lady, and winner of the popular vote in the 2016 presidential election, Hillary Clinton, sat own for an epic, two-and-a--half hour interview with Howard Stern on his SiriusXM show Wednesday.

She was there to promote "The Book of Gutsy Women," a book about heroic women co-written with her daughter, Chelsea Clinton.

In the far-reaching conversation, Clinton and the self-proclaimed "King of All Media" and, without a doubt, the best interviewer in America discussed everything from Donald Trump's inauguration to her sexuality.

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Offering parental leave for new fathers could help close the gender gap, removing the unfair "motherhood penalty" women receive for taking time off after giving birth. However, a new study finds that parental leave also has a pay gap. Men are less likely to take time off, however, when they do, they're more likely to get paid for it.

A survey of 2,966 men and women conducted by New America found that men are more likely to receive paid parental leave. Over half (52%) of fathers had fully paid parental leave, and 14% of fathers had partially paid parental leave. In comparison, 33% of mothers had fully paid parental leave and 19% had partially paid parental leave.

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Bans on plastic bags and straws can only go so far. Using disposable products, like grabbing a plastic fork when you're on the go, can be incredibly convenient. But these items also contribute to our growing plastic problem.

Fortunately, you can cut down on the amount of waste you produce by cutting down on disposable products. And even more fortunately, there are sustainable (and cute) replacements that won't damage the environment.

Coconut bowls


Who says sustainable can't also be stylish? These cute coconut bowls were handmade using reclaimed coconuts, making each piece one of a kind. Not only are they organic and biodegradable, but they're also durable, in case your dinner parties tend to get out of hand. The matching ebony wood spoons were polished with the same coconut oil as the bowls.

Cocostation Set of 2 Vietnamese Coconut Bowls and Spoons, $14.99; at Amazon

Solar powered phone charger


Why spend time looking around for an outlet when you can just harness the power of the sun? This solar powered phone charger will make sure your phone never dies as long as you can bask in the sun's rays. As an added bonus, this charger was made using eco-friendly silicone rubber. It's win-win all around.

Dizaul Solar Charger, 5000mAh Portable Solar Power Bank, $19.95; at Amazon, $19.95; at Amazon

Herb garden kit

Planter Pro

Put some green in your life with this herb planter. The kit comes with everything you need to get a garden growing, including a moisture meter that helps you determine if your herbs are getting the right amount of food to flourish. All the seeds included are certified to be non-GMO and non-hybrids, meaning you can have fresh, organic herbs right at your fingertips.

Planter Pro's Herb Garden Cedar Planter, $39.00; at Amazonedar Planter, $39.00; at Amazon

Reusable Keurig cups

K & J

Keurig cups are convenient, but they also create a ton of plastic waste. These Keurig-compatible plastic cups are an easy way to cut down on the amount of trash you create without cutting down on your caffeine. Additionally, you won't have to keep on buying K Cups, which means you'll be saving money and the environment.

K&J Reusable Filter Cups, $8.95 for a set of 4,; at Amazon

Low-flow shower head


Low-flow water fixtures can cut down your water consumption, which saves you money while also saving one of the Earth's resources. This shower head was designed with a lighter flow in mind, which means you'll be able to cut down on water usage without feeling like you're cutting down on your shower.

Speakman Low Flow Shower Head, $14.58; at Amazon

Bamboo safety razor


Instead of throwing away a disposable razor every time you shave, invest in an eco-friendly, reusable one. This unisex shaver isn't just sustainable, it's also sharp-looking, which means it would make a great gift for the holidays.

Zomchi Safety Razor, $16.99; at Amazon

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