Bending plastic and bouncing paper costs are rising faster almost then the price of gas at your local pump..

A survey of banks in 25 large American cities by Bankrate.com, an online financial-information service, found that the average fee for a bounced check has hit a record $27.40, up from $27.04 in the previous survey last spring.

The average surcharge at automated teller machines, or ATMs, has jumped to an all-time high of $1.64 from $1.60 in the spring and $1.54 a year ago, the study indicated.

“What makes these fees especially irritating is that they’re avoidable,” said Greg McBride, senior financial analyst with Bankrate.com. “It’s something that pops up and bites you when you’re not careful.”

Consumers can avoid bouncing checks by remembering to track the use of their debit cards and by keeping their checkbooks balanced, he said.

And ATM surcharges can be avoided if consumers plan ahead and get cash from their own bank’s machines.

“What the study indicates is that when you use somebody else’s ATM, you have to pay dearly for the privilege,” McBride said.

The biannual survey by Bankrate.com, based in North Palm Beach, Fla., also looked at interest and non-interest checking accounts from nearly 250 financial institutions.

Those that pay interest generally require higher initial deposits and higher minimum balances than those that don’t pay interest, McBride said.

But the interest — averaging just 0.34 percent — “is so dreadfully low it’s not worth it,” he said.

“By settling for average interest earnings of 0.34 percent instead of the 5 percent returns available in a savings or money-market account, the consumer forfeits more than $100 per year in interest earnings on a $2,500 balance,” Bankrate.com pointed out.

The study found that for interest-paying checking accounts, the minimum

opening deposit rose to about $615 in from about $430 in the spring — a 43 percent jump. The minimum balance to avoid fees was $2,660, it said.

Checking accounts that don’t pay interest required opening deposits averaging about $88 and minimum balances to avoid fees of about $210.

“People should look at these service fees because they can really add up over the course of a year,” McBride said.

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