How Everyone Lost An Outrageous Amount Of Money In 2015

Photographed by Rockie Nolan.
If you’ve ever desperately needed $1.50 to cover a cup of coffee, only to discover that the closest ATM would charge you twice that just to access your own money, you’re not alone. A new report by CNN and SNL Financial found that Americans paid an astonishing $6 billion in bank fees to just three banks in 2015. Between JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America, and Wells Fargo, Americans paid $6 billion on ATM and overdraft fees last year. Even without counting fees charged by smaller banks, that’s an average of $25 for every adult in the country. The numbers are public for the very first time — 2015 is the first year that banks are required to disclose the information. The situation is so egregious that both Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton addressed it in their presidential campaigns. Sanders promised to cap the fees at $2, while Clinton has called the charges “usurious.” The average ATM fee in America is now over $4.
Even if you’re super careful with your money, the fees — particularly overdraft fees, which generally top $30 per transaction — are something to be worried about. These fees disproportionately affect the poor, who don’t always have a financial cushion and may find themselves charged outrageous fees on small expenses. A study found that the majority of overdrafts are on transactions under $25. The $30 or so, which then go to the banks, are funds that low-income individuals will not have to spend on other necessities. If you, like many of us, sometimes find that you have a tenuous grasp on your finances, there are ways to avoid the fees. When it comes to ATM fees, it may be as simple as going a little bit further out of the way to access your own bank’s ATM or using the “cash back” option that many stores offer. When it comes to overdraft fees, most banks actually allow consumers to opt out. It won’t protect you if a check bounces or you keep charging a card after you’re in the red, but it will stop you from taking cash out of an ATM if you’re already overdrawn.

More from Work & Money

R29 Original Series