Bank charges can come as a nasty surprise, particularly if you are newly arrived in France and unfamiliar with how they work.
Here The Connexion compiles the top tips for helping you save money.
1. Check your annual statement for an overview
Monthly statements from banks will show you a list of your expenses that can include fees from your bank, but they are sometimes difficult to read and may contain lots of additional information.
Since 2009, all banks in France have had to send customers an annual statement of all charges levied on the account, giving the name and cost of each one.
This can be useful as an overview to find out all the fees that you are paying and to see if there are any charges that are particularly high that you can then remove, especially if they relate to items that are not essential to you.
You can use this government site here to compare some bank account fees.
Banks also publish general guides to their fees, which can be found on their website, often by scrolling to the bottom of the homepage. At the Crédit Agricole, for example, you will find it under tarifs et guides.
2. Choose services individually instead of getting a package
When opening a bank account, most banks will offer you a number of services combined into one ‘package’.
This package will be cheaper than if each service was added individually, and banks promote them as a cost-saving measure for customers.
Around half of customers in France opt for a package deal, according to the website of consumer advice magazine 60 millions de consommateurs.
If you do not use all of the services in the package, however, you could end up spending more money overall than if you just paid individual charges for the service you do use.
It is therefore worth looking at what is in your package to compare its price to the combined individual costs of the services you require. If individual services work out cheaper, you can cancel or opt out of the package.
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3. Do not pay for add-ons like chequebooks and debit cards
It is not just with services where you can make savings, but also with the physical products offered to you.
Although becoming less common, many people still use or own a chequebook, and most banks in France will charge customers for having one (and may even charge extra for the postal fees for sending the chequebook). So if you don’t use them, it’s an easy place to save money.
The same advice applies to bank cards. There are a number of different ones you can use, ranging from simple ones only used for withdrawing money from ATMs to premium Visa and Mastercards that come with a range of additional benefits.
You can always ask your bank adviser what kind of card you have, and if you do not use many of its features, change to a more basic one with fewer charges.
For example, if you do not use your bank card for shopping online or for purchasing products in shops, then you do not need a debit card, and can simply have a cash withdrawal card for ATM usage instead.
4. You do not have to take out payment card insurance
The assurance des moyens de paiement (payment card insurance) is another common charge for most people in France.
It is offered by banks to most account holders, usually when they originally sign up, and it means your bank will cover you for the costs incurred if there is a fraudulent use of your bank card or chequebook.
It may also cover other costs, for example replacing lost or stolen identity documents, keys, cash, and electrical devices, up to a certain amount.
The exact coverage depends on your bank and the type of insurance you have.
It is usually a monthly payment taken out of your account, and can vary in price, but despite being offered to you when you sign up for your account, it is not necessary to subscribe to one of these.
When you first sign up for your account, you usually have up to 14 days to opt out of the assurance des moyens de paiement if you choose to have the service but later think you do not want it.
After that, you usually have to keep the insurance for one year, after which you can cancel it, although some banks allow cancellation sooner. There is no fee to cancel the insurance, and it will simply be removed from your account in one month’s time.
There is some debate as to the usefulness of the insurance and whether it is really necessary; for example, all bank customers should automatically benefit from certain rights in the case of fraudulent use of their card, unless they are deemed to have acted negligently.
There is also a ‘chargeback’ process where your bank will in some cases refund you if, for example, a product purchased with one of its cards does not arrive or is faulty.
So, if you decide you do not need extra insurance on top of this, you can cancel it.
Read also: French banks taken to court for not reimbursing fraud victims
Read also: What credit card purchase protection is there in France
5. You can avoid ATM charges by only using certain machines
Although a rarity in some other countries, charges for using the ATMs of other banks still exist in France, particularly if you do this multiple times per month.
The exact charge depends on your bank, as well as the rules of the bank where you are withdrawing your money from.
The best way to prevent any surprise charges for ATM withdrawals is to only withdraw money from the ATMs of your bank.
It seems the ATM landscape is changing in France however, as recently three major French banks announced they are combining their ATM services, eliminating withdrawal fees between them.
Another useful tip is that online-only banks do not charge you for withdrawing at all ATMs across France if you use cards issued by them.
Read also: Bank ATMs vandalised across France by climate campaigners
6. Increase or reduce your overdraft limit
Not having an authorised overdraft, or having one but not using it, can also increase your monthly charges.
If you find you sometimes become overdrawn beyond any agreed limit you have set, you may incur a substantial penalty fee plus heavier interest (even an authorised overdraft has some interest payable), as this is seen as a serious matter in France.
If you find that you are frequently dipping into your overdraft, it may be possible to ask for an additional ‘facilité de caisse’ which is a set agreed amount into which your account can occasionally go into debit and which must be paid back within a fairly short, agreed period.
This will involve an additional charge on your account usually paid every month or every three months but will save you from much larger unauthorised overdraft fees if it is a common situation for you.
Another service that can help is a réserve de crédit, which is an agreed amount of revolving credit that you can use as long as you keep paying it off in agreed minimum amounts. This is usually associated with a credit card (eg. Mastercard or Visa), and French cards may combine the two in one card (in shops, the machine will give you the option as to which you want to use).
Alternatively, if you are paying charges related to any of these services and do not need them and never go into overdraft, you will make a saving by stopping them.
7. Consider using an online bank
In the last few years, online banks have become increasingly popular across Europe, with examples such as Monzo, Revolut, Monabanq, and N26 seeing millions of customers.
These banks usually charge much lower fees – or even in some cases none at all – compared with traditional banks.
You may also avoid charges like international transaction fees with an online bank.
But they do not have any physical presence and so have no in-person branches you can walk into to seek assistance.
This may also make it difficult to deposit cheques (and cash) to your online account, as there is no physical location to drop them off.
Read also: Do online ‘neobanks’ protect our money like ordinary French banks?
It is possible to have both an account with a physical bank and a different account with an online one, allowing you to mix and match what you use each account for, eliminating some of the charges from your existing bank account.
Some online banks also require you to make a certain number of transactions with the account per month to keep the account active.
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