The children have been driving your spouse crazy all day, so you decide to take the family out for dinner.

You open the checkbook, take a look at your balance and, without even thinking about it, mentally deduct the $200 you have to keep in your account if you want to avoid a service charge.

Don't you hate that?

I do. The whole "minimum-balance" thing is a maximum pet peeve of mine.

And I'm not alone. Jeannine contacted me to ask why her bank recently increased the minimum balance requirement for her savings account from $200 to $300. When she first opened the account, she said, the minimum was $10.

I decided to pose her question to the state's two biggest banking operators — Wells Fargo and Zions Bank.

Wells Fargo confirmed that the minimum balance for its basic savings account increased from $200 to $300 effective April 1.

"There's a minimum balance to avoid a fee," said Keith Lobis, president of Wells' Salt Lake division. "That would be $300. Otherwise, there's a $3 service charge on regular savings."

The $300 minimum is based on the company's cost of servicing savings accounts, he said. The minimums increase based on Wells Fargo's continuing analysis of costs.

"We sort of set that balance where the break-even point would be for the servicing of a product," he said.

David Fuhriman, senior vice president for Zions' retail product division, said his bank requires a $200 minimum balance for its basic "statement savings," although that minimum is waived for people under 22 years of age. Accounts that fall below the minimum face a $3 service charge.

Checking accounts are similar. Zions offers free checking that requires no minimum balance, but its regular checking has a $300 minimum to avoid a $7 service charge.

"There are certain costs that we have just to keep the account on the books," Fuhriman said.

"So the branch or department that has a savings account earns that interest, but it's offset by fees we allocate to that account, the cost just to keep it on our computer system."

Both Lobis and Fuhriman said they do not receive many complaints about the minimums. But if someone does complain, alternative products are available.

"If a customer is having difficulty keeping $300 in a savings product, our free checking has no minimum balance and there's no service fee whatsoever," Lobis said.

Fuhriman said banks do make money from the minimum balance requirements, but he thinks competition keeps the minimums manageable.

In other words, Jeannine, the minimum-balance requirement apparently is not a ploy to keep you and me from dipping into our savings to buy something cool. But just because I understand it doesn't mean it's off my pet peeve list.

If you have a financial question, e-mail it to me at gkratz@desnews.com or send it to the Deseret Morning News, P.O. Box 1257, Salt Lake City, UT 84110. I'll answer as many as I can.


E-mail: gkratz@desnews.com