A weekly solution to a problem affecting your finances.
Problem: You're getting hit with overdraft and late fees at your bank.
Solution: Sign up for alerts from your bank. Many banks will offer to send you e-mails or text messages when your balances fall below a specific threshold.
Another option is to sign up for a transfer service that will automatically tap a savings account or a line of credit or a credit card in case there is an overdraft in the checking account. You might pay a fee, plus interest on outstanding loans, for each transfer, although the costs should still be lower than an overdraft or bounced-check fee.
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Consumers also can take advantage of free personal-finance Web sites, such as Mint.com, Wesabe.com, and QuickenOnline.com, that will break out the fees you pay in your checking account and offer tips on how to avoid them.
Or, for those who ditch the bank altogether, brokerage firms can offer a lower-cost checking-account alternative. Account holders at Fidelity, for example, can link checking accounts held there to their brokerage accounts. Any overdrafts will automatically pull money, as needed and without fees, from the cash portion of their brokerage accounts.
The Wall Street Journal