Minimum Balance: How It Works and Tips to Avoid Fees

Summary:

A minimum balance is the minimum amount of money required in a bank or margin account to access specific services or maintain the account. In this article, we explore the different aspects of minimum balances, how they impact your financial accounts, and ways to avoid them. Whether you’re a banking novice or a seasoned investor, understanding minimum balances is crucial for sound financial management.

Understanding minimum balance

What is a minimum balance?

A minimum balance, in the realm of banking and finance, refers to the smallest amount of money that must be kept in an account to access certain benefits or keep the account open. These accounts can be either bank accounts or margin accounts, each with its own set of rules.

Minimum balance in bank accounts

When you open a bank account, you’re often required to maintain a minimum balance. The purpose of this requirement varies from one bank to another. Some banks may impose it just to open the account, while others do it to offer preferential services. Falling below this minimum balance can result in fees, loss of interest payments, or even the closure of the account.

The minimum balance is typically calculated based on the actual dollar balance in the account, but some banks may calculate it as an average balance over a specific period. This averaging approach can be beneficial for those with fluctuating income. It’s important to note that a single account can have multiple minimum balances. For example, one balance might be required to keep the account open, while a higher balance might be necessary for fee waivers or interest payments.

Why do banks require minimum balances?

Banks have various reasons for imposing minimum balances on their accounts. First and foremost, it allows banks to gather more deposits, which, in turn, enables them to lend more money while maintaining regulatory financial ratios. Moreover, banks can profit from fees if account balances fall short of the minimum. Essentially, minimum balances serve as a revenue stream for banks, helping them cover operational costs.

It’s worth noting that not all banks have minimum balance requirements, and there are often ways to avoid them. Some strategies include online banking, setting up direct deposits, or, for students, opening a specialized student account.

Minimum balances in margin accounts

Margin accounts, commonly used for trading stocks, are subject to minimum balance requirements. According to the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), a minimum deposit of at least $2,000 is required for a margin account. However, this amount can vary in some cases.

After purchasing a stock on margin, the maintenance requirement specifies the minimum amount of equity that must be maintained in the account continuously. FINRA rules dictate that this minimum equity balance should be at least 25% of the total market value of the securities purchased on margin. Individual brokerage firms have the discretion to set the maintenance requirement percentage higher than 25%, with some going as high as 40% or more depending on the type of securities involved.

In case the account falls below the required minimum equity balance, the brokerage firm will issue a margin call. This is a demand for the investor to deposit additional cash or securities to meet the minimum balance. Failing to comply will lead the brokerage firm to unilaterally liquidate securities in the account until the minimum equity balance is restored.

Example of a minimum balance

An example of a minimum balance is the amount of money required in a bank account to qualify for certain rewards or avoid fees. For instance, if your bank requires a minimum balance of at least $200 to waive a $10 monthly fee, you need to maintain that balance. This example illustrates how a minimum balance can be beneficial for account holders by helping them save on fees.

Minimum balance on credit cards

Paying only the minimum balance on a credit card will prevent you from defaulting on payments and keep the card open without issue. However, it’s not the most financially prudent choice. Paying only the minimum balance means you’re not paying off your entire debt, leading to interest charges on the unpaid amount each month. This can result in an ever-increasing debt balance. Ideally, you should aim to pay the entire statement balance on your credit card, not just the minimum.

Do banks charge for minimum balances?

Some banks will charge fees for failing to meet the required minimum balance. The specifics of these fees can vary between banks. It’s essential to check with your bank to understand its specific requirements and whether they offer no-fee bank accounts that do not require minimum balances.

Other minimum balance scenarios

Minimum balance for savings accounts

While the primary focus has been on checking accounts, it’s important to note that minimum balance requirements can also apply to savings accounts. Many banks offer various types of savings accounts, each with its own minimum balance specifications. For instance, a regular savings account might have a lower minimum balance requirement compared to a high-yield savings account, which typically offers better interest rates. Understanding these differences can help you make the most of your savings while avoiding unnecessary fees.

Brokerage accounts and minimum balances

Beyond margin accounts, brokerage firms often set minimum balance requirements for other types of accounts as well. For example, some brokers may require a minimum balance to access certain trading platforms or to qualify for reduced commission rates. These minimum balances can vary significantly between brokerage firms, so it’s crucial to research and choose a broker that aligns with your investment goals and financial situation.

Minimum balance and rewards programs

Credit card rewards and minimum balance

Credit card companies may also have rewards programs that tie in with maintaining a minimum balance in your associated bank account. For example, a bank may offer a credit card with cashback rewards, but you’ll need to maintain a specific minimum balance in your linked checking or savings account to qualify for those rewards. This interplay between credit cards and minimum balances adds another layer of complexity to your financial decision-making.

Rewards points and travel benefits

Some banks offer rewards points for maintaining a minimum balance, which can be redeemed for various benefits, including travel perks, gift cards, or cashback. These reward programs are designed to incentivize customers to keep a certain amount in their accounts, ultimately benefiting both the account holder and the bank. Before deciding on a bank or financial institution, it’s advisable to explore the potential rewards and benefits associated with maintaining a minimum balance.

Digital banking and minimum balances

Online-only banks and no minimum balances

The rise of online-only or digital banks has transformed the banking landscape. Many digital banks operate without minimum balance requirements, offering no-fee accounts with competitive interest rates. These banks leverage technology to reduce operational costs, making it possible for customers to access essential banking services without worrying about minimum balances. If you prefer a flexible and fee-free banking experience, exploring digital banking options is a smart choice.

High-yield savings accounts and digital banks

Digital banks are also known for offering high-yield savings accounts, which can provide a higher annual percentage yield (APY) compared to traditional banks. These high-yield accounts may have minimum balance requirements, but they often come with benefits like fee waivers, unlimited transactions, and quick access to funds. When considering digital banking options, it’s essential to weigh the advantages of higher interest rates against any associated minimum balance requirements.

The bottom line

Bank accounts come in various types and requirements depending on the institution. Not all bank accounts have minimum balance requirements. Those that do may offer additional benefits, such as fee waivers and free checking. When opening a bank account, it’s crucial to understand what is required so you can make informed decisions and avoid unnecessary costs.

Frequently asked questions

What happens if I don’t maintain the minimum balance in my bank account?

If your bank account requires a minimum balance and you fall below that threshold, you may face consequences such as account maintenance fees, the loss of interest payments, or even the closure of your account. It’s essential to understand your bank’s specific policies regarding minimum balances to avoid these penalties.

Can I use online banking to avoid minimum balance requirements?

Yes, many banks offer online-only accounts that don’t require minimum balances. These accounts can be a great option if you prefer flexibility and don’t want to worry about maintaining a specific balance. However, it’s crucial to check the terms and conditions of these accounts to ensure they align with your financial needs.

Are minimum balance requirements the same for all banks?

No, minimum balance requirements can vary significantly from one bank to another. Each financial institution sets its own policies regarding minimum balances. Some banks may have no minimum balance requirements, while others have strict requirements. It’s advisable to research and compare different banks to find one that suits your financial goals.

What strategies can I use to meet minimum balance requirements without extra stress?

To meet minimum balance requirements without stress, consider setting up direct deposits into your account, as this ensures a steady inflow of funds. Additionally, some banks offer specialized accounts for students that come with lower minimum balance requirements. Exploring these options can help you maintain your balance more comfortably.

Is it worth maintaining a minimum balance for rewards programs?

The value of maintaining a minimum balance for rewards programs depends on your specific financial goals and the rewards offered. If the rewards, such as cashback, travel benefits, or fee waivers, align with your needs, it can be worthwhile. However, it’s essential to calculate whether the benefits outweigh any fees or opportunity costs associated with keeping the minimum balance.

Key takeaways

  • Minimum balance refers to the smallest amount of money required to access specific benefits or maintain a financial account.
  • Bank accounts and margin accounts can have minimum balance requirements.
  • Banks impose minimum balances to gather deposits, lend money, and generate fees.
  • Not all banks require minimum balances, and there are strategies to avoid them, such as online banking or direct deposits.
  • Credit card minimum payments can lead to accumulating interest and increasing debt.
  • Some banks charge fees for failing to meet minimum balance requirements.
View article sources
  1. Savings Account Minimum Balance – BCU
  2. Do I have to maintain a minimum balance … – Alliant Credit Union
  3. BECU Checking Accounts | No Minimums and … – BECU
  4. Balance of Payments Manual – International Monetary Fund