A recent report suggest that consumers who tend to skip over the “fine print” when they join a bank are usually the same consumers who get a big surprise when they find out the fees attached to the paperwork they signed when they did so.

Frankly, information about fees and costs are difficult to find because banks set up their contracts to make it so. A report released in June of last year by the Consumer Federation of America found that, for example, there are some banks that charge exorbitant fees for inactivity of very short periods of time or, in some cases, they charge fees for 3 or less withdrawals from a savings account. These are not only a financial burden for consumers but, because they aren’t specified clearly in most contracts, an unpleasant revelation.

Adding to the problem is the fact that most bank fees like maintenance fees, ATM charges and overdraft fees continue to creep ever higher, according to a survey released by MoneyRates.com last year. They found that in 2012 the average maintenance fee per month on a checking account increased by $.18. On a positive note, that same survey found that slightly over 33% of banks don’t charge maintenance fees on their checking accounts.

Today’s blog deals with finding out about those fees before they become an unpleasant surprise, as well as avoiding them, and below you’ll find a number of excellent tips and our usual excellent advice to help you keep bank fees at bay and pay as few as possible. Enjoy

Be on the lookout for disclosures.

Every time a bank send you a new disclosure, whether by snail mail or email, it’s an indication that something has changed in their policies. Your best bet to avoid any of their new fees is to closely read any disclosures that you get from your bank so that you can avoid doing anything that might result in an increase or addition to your normal fees.

Read the fine print.

Most financial experts will tell you that the average bank and/or credit union does a relatively good job of disclosing any information about fees to their customers. On the other hand, there are still banks that make it very difficult to not only find out about fees but also the stipulations and rules governing them. Yes, it’s a pain in the behind to have to read through all of these details, let alone understand most of what is being written due to the fact that it’s in “legalese”, but if there’s one way to avoid unnecessary or surprise charges reading the fine print is it.

Talk to an actual human being about fees and charges.

If you’re not keen on reading the fine print of every letter or document that your bank sends you, your next best bet is to talk to an actual bank representative and ask them flat out if there are any fees associated with the services that you are going to be using. Knowing what those fees are as well as your normal banking habits will let you know if you should stick with the bank you are using or possibly find a new one that has fees and charges more appropriate for you.

If you use mobile apps to do some of your banking, be aware of what the rules and fees are.

As everything “goes mobile” more and more banks are creating apps that their customers can use for their banking tasks. In most cases they are free to use initially but you can bet your bottom dollar (pun intended) that most banks will slowly but surely start including fees for using them as, frankly, it’s simply another way for them to monetize their services.

Don’t be afraid of using more than one bank.

There’s no rule saying that you have to have all of your banking and all of your accounts at one particular bank. If you find a bank that fits your checking account needs but not your savings, stick with them for checking and find another for your savings account. Yes, it can be a bit more convenient to have all of your banking under one roof but, unless both banks are not located in your specific city or town, using more than one bank to maximize your savings is an excellent idea.

Consider using an online bank.

An online specific bank, one that doesn’t have a “brick-and-mortar” location, will typically have lower fees all around. One suggestion is to consolidate your checking and savings accounts into a single account if you are having trouble meeting any minimum balance requirements that your online bank might have.

If necessary, switch banks.

It might be a slight hassle to do so but if you’re not happy with the fees are paying at your current bank it’s probably time to shop around for a new one and possibly look for a credit union instead where fees are usually lower.

One last thing to always keep in mind is simply this; a bank is a business and all businesses are set up to make a profit. Banks don’t help you out of the goodness of their hearts, they help you because you pay their salaries and their stockholders. While it’s certainly fair both legally and morally for banks to do so, it doesn’t mean that you can’t maximize your savings by using any bank services wisely.