You could easily be paying your bank hundreds of dollars a year in fees - and it's money you probably don't need to spend. Our guide shows you the smart ways to cut your bank fees.

Account types

Everyday accounts

For everyday (daily use) accounts, most banks offer a “flat” fee that covers account maintenance as well as all your transactions. A bank’s also more likely to offer you a better deal on your on-call account fee if you have a mortgage above a certain size.

Without a mortgage
Your account fee may be reduced or even waived if you do all your banking online or if you keep your account balance “healthy” (above a specified level). Ask your bank whether it offers this.

With a mortgage
Nearly all banks offer fee rebates or waive them altogether if you have a mortgage with them. For example, Kiwibank will waive transaction fees if you hold a mortgage with them. SBS Bank customers with a mortgage get the first 20 withdrawals each month for free.

However, as many everyday accounts have low (or no) fees already, this isn’t such a great deal.

Savings accounts

These are designed specifically for customers to maximise their savings. This means most banks have no account-maintenance fees on savings accounts.

But there are some exceptions. HSBC charges an account-maintenance fee of $15 – unless you have a loan (over $500,000) or considerable savings (over $100,000). Westpac charges $2.50 a month on its Bonus Saver if your average monthly balance drops below $1000.

Withdrawal fees are likely to apply to savings accounts. The fees range from $1 to $5 per transaction, depending on how the withdrawal is made.

Interest can be paid on your account in several ways. There are "flat" rates currently ranging from 0.25 to 4.0 percent, and "tiered" rates where higher levels of saving are rewarded with higher interest rates. These "tiered" rates can start as low as 0 percent and move up to around 3.5 percent for accounts paying interest on the full balance. Some accounts pay interest on a stepped basis and tend to have rates around 4-5 percent for their top tier.

There are also accounts which pay a flat base rate ranging from 0.1 to 1.0 percent and a bonus rate (3.25 to 4.0 percent) if no withdrawals (and/or a deposit) are made each month. In most cases, if you withdraw money you’ll lose the opportunity to get bonus interest. The Cooperative Bank (formerly the PSIS) and BNZ allow one withdrawal before you lose the bonus rate for the month.

Student accounts

Tertiary students are the high earners of the future – so banks are keen to lure them in early.

Most important here are low fees and access to cheap (or interest-free) credit.

Almost all the banks offer special “tertiary student accounts” with no monthly account-maintenance fees. The banks that don’t offer these are BankDirect, HSBC, TSB Bank and SBS Bank.

A credit card may be tempting but its high interest rate means debt can build up fast. An interest-free overdraft is a better alternative: it allows you to borrow up to a set amount without having to pay interest. Most banks offer this as part of a student account – although you’ll have to meet the bank’s criteria for lending (it’s not automatically granted) as well as paying a monthly overdraft fee.

Occasionally students may need to borrow more than their interest-free overdraft can allow – perhaps for bond fees or unexpected study costs. It’s a good idea to check how much your bank will charge for this.

Tip: The interest “freeze” on your overdraft is likely to end with your studies.

Superannuitant accounts

ANZ, BNZ, The Co-operative Bank, Heartland Bank and Westpac offer “superannuitant” accounts with no maintenance or transaction fees if you have your NZ Super or pension paid into this account – although penalty fees and fees for “special” services will still apply if you incur them. SBS Bank and Kiwibank also offer fee waivers for over 65s but don’t require super to be paid into the account.

ASB gives a fee exemption for seniors on its Omni account for the first $20 worth of transactions each month provided their Super is paid into the account. There’s no account maintenance fee on Omni accounts.

Bank Direct, TSB Bank and HSBC are the only banks that don’t offer a fee waiver for superannuitants. If you’re with one of these banks, ask what it can do for you – and switch banks if it won’t offer you lower fees.

Penalty and service fees

Dishonour fees – and “penalty” fees in general – are the most controversial bank fees. This is because their size doesn’t always correspond with the cost of what triggers them.

In the past banks have argued that the purpose of these fees is not just to recoup costs – it’s also to deter customers from certain behaviour. But in its investigation of late-payment fees on credit cards, the Commerce Commission didn’t accept this argument: it said there was no evidence such fees work as a deterrent. It also considered that late-payment fees which generated profit (rather than simply recovered costs) did not comply with the Credit Contracts and Consumer Finance Act.

In 2009 BNZ scrapped dishonour fees and the other banks cut theirs. Standard dishonour fees back then would have been between $20 and $35; now they average about $15. Honour fees – where the bank completes an automatic payment for you when you don’t have enough in your account and charges you for this – have disappeared. However, unarranged overdraft fees – incurred when you exceed your available funds or your overdraft – seem to have taken the place of “honouring”.

Banks have also reduced the fees charged for late payment of credit cards. These were between $20 and $25; they’re now between $10 and $25.

BNZ leads the charge when it comes to dishonour fees on cheques and electronic payments: it charges a very attractive zero. All the other banks charge a fee of some kind.

Avoiding fees

Become a paying member to find out how to avoid your bank fees.

Reducing fees

Become a paying member to find out how to reduce your bank fees.

Think about interest rates

When you’re shopping for better deals, keep your focus on your overall banking costs. Savings you get on bank fees may be whittled away if you have to pay a higher interest rate on your mortgage or you give up a good interest rate on your savings.

Understand how interest works

If you keep a high balance in your account, you may only consider the rate of interest paid, but there are 3 other issues to consider too.

  • How interest is calculated. Some accounts calculate interest on the daily balance, but others calculate it on the minimum monthly balance. In the latter case, you may end up receiving less interest.

    Say you have $500 in an account for 29 days in the month, but only $10 on one day. If interest is calculated on the daily balance, you'll be paid 29 days' worth of interest on $500 and one day's worth of interest on $10. But if interest is calculated on the minimum balance, you'll be paid 30 days' worth of interest on only $10!

  • How often interest is credited to the account. The more often interest is credited, the more it will compound (that is, you'll earn interest on interest). Whereas some accounts credit interest monthly, others only credit it quarterly or yearly.

  • Whether interest is paid on the full balance or marginal tiers. This is only relevant for accounts that have a tiered interest rate structure, for instance an account which pays 1% on balances up to $1000 and 2% on balances higher than this. On such accounts, interest may be calculated on the full balance or on marginal tiers. The full balance calculation is better.

    Assume the account has $1500 in it. If the account pays interest on the full balance, the accountholder would be paid 2% on $1500. If the account pays interest on marginal tiers, the accountholder would be paid 1% on $1000 and 2% only on the remaining $500.

Switching banks

Switching banks can seem a big hassle. You've got to get your wages or benefit credited into a new account, you may have to transfer your mortgage, and there are all those other payments that you've set up to come out automatically – things like power, phone, rates etc.

You'll also need to go through the process of getting new eftpos, credit cards and PINs.

When you're switching banks you need to keep an eye on both your old and your new banks to make sure they do things correctly. Here's our advice on handling the process.

1. Before you switch, ask your bank to do better

Ask your existing bank to look for ways to cut your costs. Make an appointment with a personal banker at your branch to do this. Would it help if you changed or combined accounts, or consolidated your debts? Once you know how much you could save, you'll have a benchmark to help you compare your bank with others. And it may save you the trouble of having to switch at all.

2. Check your accounts

Look at a few months' of transactions, and work out how you use your bank. How many transactions do you make each month? How many times do you use eftpos, ATMs, cheques, over-the-counter deposits and withdrawals? How many direct debits and automatic payments do you set up? How low do your balances fall? Are you earning interest from any of your accounts? Gathering this information will help you figure out what's causing your fees to mount up.

3. Shop around

Use our resources to help you work out possible accounts to move to.

Then check the banks' websites. Remember, you don't have to get all your banking services from one bank. For instance, don't be put off an account just because it doesn't have a credit card – you could get one elsewhere.

4. Set up the new accounts

You can apply for a new transaction account over the phone, online or by going into a bank branch. It may help to go into a branch if you're not sure exactly what you want. A personal banker can talk through your options. When you go to the branch, take them a breakdown of how you use your accounts.

If you open the account without visiting, you'll still need to go in at some point to sign documentation, identify yourself and be issued with a PIN number. Remember to take in appropriate ID and your IRD number.

5. The switch

You may be able to use your new bank’s switching team to open your new accounts, move your outgoing payments and close your old accounts. Or you can do it all yourself.

Open the new account before you close the old one and keep both accounts running for a few weeks. This gives you the chance to reorganise outgoings, including direct debits and automatic payments, and to make sure your wages are going where they should.

  • Direct debits: You'll need to phone each company (phone, power, etc) and get them to send out a new direct debit form. Allow plenty of time for this to come through. After filling out the forms with the details of your new bank, return them to the companies debiting the money.
  • Wages: Don't forget to tell your employer your new account details.
  • Other income: Make sure the details are changed for any money you receive from investments and other automatically-paid sources of income.
  • Automatic payments: Remember to re-set automatic payments with your new bank and make sure they go out on the correct dates. You can do this yourself through phone or internet banking or through your branch (for a larger fee).

6. Closure

Leave enough funds in your old account to cover any fees. Once you're sure everything has worked out, close the account and cut up any old cards. Switching banks can often be more complicated and expensive if you have a mortgage. Before you switch, ask your bank whether there are any fees for transferring/cancelling a mortgage.

Using the banks’ switching teams

All of the major banks have switching teams that will move your automatic payments, direct debits and internet banking bill payment details to your new bank for you and close off your old accounts.

Before 2010 there were no clear rules setting out exactly how the banks must co-operate with each other when transferring a customer’s payment details. So, one bank could have held up the process if they were losing a customer to another bank. Now there are rules the banks have agreed to follow.

Payments NZ took over the governance of payments clearing and settlements from the New Zealand Bankers Association in December 2010. It’s now in charge of setting and overseeing the rules for how information about automatic payments, bill payments and direct debits are exchanged between banks when a customer switches.

Together with the major banks (ANZ, ASB, BNZ, Citibank, Kiwibank, HSBC, TSB and Westpac), Payments NZ developed standards and processes to make it simpler and faster for customers to switch banks. For instance, there’s now a standard form that customers fill in, authorising their new bank to contact their old bank for the details of their accounts and regular payments.

It doesn’t matter whether the bank is gaining or losing a customer – they must follow the rules and work with the other bank to change payments over in a timely manner.

How it works
You talk to your new bank and arrange what accounts you want to open. Your new bank will then give you a “Switching Bank Request” form.

You fill in the form and give it to your new bank. The form details:

  • Your old bank’s name and your account name.
  • Your old account numbers and if there are automatic payments, bill payments and direct debits linked to them.
  • The dates to cancel existing payments and close your accounts at your old bank.
  • Your signature authorising your old bank and new bank to exchange information about your payments, and authorising any places you have direct debits with to use your new accounts once they’ve had written notice from your new bank.

The old bank will then advise the details of your regular outgoing payments. The new bank will manage the entire account opening and payments switching process for you, including reloading your existing payment authorities against your new account.

How long does it take?
While the transaction and savings accounts at your new bank can be open within a couple of days, it can take up to 14 days to finish switching the payments and close your old accounts.

The Payments NZ rules give the old bank 5 business days to respond to the new bank with your payments information after receiving the switching form but they still may not do this until day 5. Your new bank then has to have time to set up the new payments.

Payments NZ believes the majority of information exchanges are handled within the prescribed 5 business day turnaround period. However, it doesn’t collect any figures on this. The banks say most information exchanges are happening within the 5 days.

It may also take longer than 5 business days for what the banks call an “initiator” to respond. An “initiator” is a business or service provider, like a power company or telco, which you have a direct debit set up with. Your new bank will let them know your new account number.

Account closure may take longer than 5 days. If an account is overdrawn it’ll need to be cleared first, or there may be cheques that haven’t been processed yet.

You can choose to take longer to close your old accounts and have balances transferred. For instance, you may know you’re going to be receiving money at some point in the future and want to keep your old account open until that has happened.

What’s not covered?
Direct credits are not handled by the switching teams. You’ll have to advise your employer or anyone else that deposits money to your account of your new account details. BNZ, Kiwibank and Westpac have a letter template that you can use and Westpac offers to contact your employer for you. If you’re a landlord don’t forget to tell your tenants. If you receive money from Work and Income or IRD, let them know.

While the use of the switching teams is free, you may have to pay any fees for setting up the automatic payments and direct debits. Check with your new bank.

Where to find more information
The banks’ websites provide information about their switching process.

BNZ and ANZ have information for doing the switch yourself or for using their switching teams. BNZ also has a handy checklist you could use and offers to refund payment establishment fees for the first 3 months, whether you do the switching yourself or use its team.

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