You haven’t spent that much money this month. There should be plenty left over to cover this, right?
Before long, the bank has sent you the alert—your account is in the red. You’ve overdrafted. Now you’ll almost certainly face two consequences…
1. Overdraft fees. The bank’s favorite way to slap you on the wrist for overspending. These are, on average, $33.58 per overdraft as of 2021.¹
2. Interest. The only reason you can keep purchasing once you’re in the negative is because the bank loans you money. And with every loan comes interest.
It may not seem significant, but these add up. In 2020, Americans spent 12.4 billion in fees alone.²
Here are some strategies to help your bank account stay above water…
Don’t activate overdraft coverage. This way, purchases that push your bank account past zero will be denied. Overdrafting becomes impossible. There are, however, two serious drawbacks…
You may feel silly if you try to make a purchase and it doesn’t go through. You may need to make a legitimate emergency purchase that exceeds the amount in your account.
Fortunately, there are other strategies at your disposal.
Link a savings account. If you have an emergency fund, you can link it directly to your spending account. That way, if you overdraft, your emergency fund will automatically make up the difference.
This works well for covering emergency expenses. But if your regular spending overdrafts your account, you may squander your emergency fund on non-emergencies.
Budget better. Consistent overdrafting may mean that you have a spending problem. If that’s the case, the time has come to cut back. Set up a budget that keeps your spending above water each month. That way, you won’t come close to the dangers of overdraft.
It all comes down to why you’re overdrafting. If you overdraft on occasion because of emergencies, simply link your emergency fund to cover the difference. But if it’s the symptom of a deeper issue, it may be time to seek help.
¹ “Overdraft fees hit another record high this year—here’s how to avoid them,” Alicia Adamczyk, CNBC, Oct 20, 2021, https://www.cnbc.com/2021/10/20/overdraft-fees-hit-another-record-highheres-how-to-avoid-them.html
² “Banks Charged Low-Income Americans Billions In Overdraft Fees In 2020,” Kelly Anne Smith, Forbes, Apr 21, 2021, https://www.forbes.com/advisor/personal-finance/how-to-prevent-overdraft-fees/
Keeping your credit in tip top shape may actually help save you money in some cases. With that in mind, how do you know if it’s a good idea to open a new credit card or to close some credit card accounts? Let’s find out!
Opening Credit Card Accounts
Opening a new credit card isn’t necessarily detrimental to your credit score in the long term, although there may be some potential negatives in the short term. As you might expect, opening a new credit card account will place a new inquiry on your credit report, which could cause a drop in your credit score. Any negative effect due to the inquiry is often temporary, but the long-term effect depends on how you use the account after that (not making minimum payments, carrying a high balance, etc.).
Opening a new credit card account can affect your credit rating in two other ways. The average age of your credit accounts can be lowered since you’ve added a credit account that’s brand new (i.e., the older the account, the better it is for your score). On the plus side, opening a new credit card account can reduce your credit utilization. For example, if you had $5000 in available credit with $2500 in credit card balances, your credit utilization is 50%. Adding another card with $2500 in available credit with the same balance total of $2500 drops your credit utilization to 33%. A lower credit utilization can help your score.
Closing Credit Card Accounts
Closing a credit card account can also affect your credit score, largely due to some of the same considerations for opening new credit card accounts. Generally speaking, closing a credit card account likely won’t help boost your credit score, and doing so could possibly lower your credit score for the same reasons above (lowering the average age of your accounts, increasing your credit utilization, etc.).
First, the positive reasons to close the account: This might be obvious, but closing a credit card account will prevent you from using it. If discipline has been a challenge, instead of closing the account, you might consider simply cutting up the card or placing it in a lockbox.
Second, the negative reasons to close the account: Closing a credit card account when you have outstanding balances on other credit card accounts will raise your credit utilization. A higher credit utilization can cause your credit rating to fall. You’ll also want to consider the average age of all of your accounts, which can play a big role in your credit score. A longer history is better. Closing a credit account that was established long ago can impact your credit score negatively by lowering your average account age.
Fair Isaac, the company responsible for assigning FICO scores, recommends not closing credit card accounts if your goal is to raise or preserve your credit score.[i]
Would opening or closing a bank account have any effect on my score?\ Closing a bank account has no effect on your credit rating and normally doesn’t appear on your credit report at all. When you open a bank account, however, your bank may perform a credit inquiry, particularly if you apply for overdraft protection. A hard inquiry (such as an overdraft protection application) can cause a temporary drop in your credit score. Soft inquiries – which are also common for banks – will appear on your credit report but do not affect your credit rating. Banks may also check your report from ChexSystems[ii], a company that reports on consumer bank accounts, including overdraft history and any unresolved balances on closed accounts.[iii]
The lessons from Parts 1 and 2 dealt heavily with the importance of making sure your money isn’t just sitting in your checking account where it’s neither growing nor working for your future. It’s great if you’re ready to make some positive changes. But before you become too starry-eyed and pull all of your money out of your checking account and chuck it into some new accounts (that may or may not have less than stellar rates of return), ask yourself these 2 questions:
1. Does my bank have a fee attached to a minimum threshold in my checking account? Staying on course to your financial goals can be tough enough, but being hit with a surprise fee from your bank if you withdraw too much can really kill your momentum. Americans paid an average of $53 per person in 2015.¹ These types of penalties can be avoided by learning what your bank requires for each type of account you hold, along with paying attention to the amount of money in your accounts. Following the tips below in concert with your bank’s unique rules can help avoid course-altering fees:²
2. Do you keep enough in your checking account to avoid overdraft fees? Guess how much Americans paid in overdraft fees last year alone… $15 Billion!³ What portion of that might have been your own personal contribution? Remember the advice in Part 2 to keep accounts for different occasions like emergencies or having some fun? Reserving funds in these separate, designated accounts has the potential to prevent unexpected and/or large withdrawals from your main checking account that could generate a fee or penalty. Additional ways you can protect yourself from overdraft fees are to set up overdraft protection (but watch out for a fee for this service) and to always keep a small cushion in your checking account, just in case.
Moving your money away from the Black Hole of Checking is important. But ignoring the asteroids of unexpected banking fees headed your way could dampen your momentum for building savings and getting your money to work for you.
¹ Pisani, Bob. “Bank fees have been growing like crazy.” CNBC, 7.21.2017, https://www.cnbc.com/2017/07/21/the-crazy-growth-of-bank-fees.html.
² Armstrong, Tony. “How to Avoid Monthly Checking Account Fees.” NerdWallet, 3.21.2017, https://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/banking/how-to-avoid-monthly-bank-fees/.
³ Wattles, Jackie. “Americans paid $15 billion in overdraft fees last year, CFPB says.” CNN Money, 8.4.2017, http://money.cnn.com/2017/08/04/pf/overdraft-fees-cfpb/index.html.