Money Analysed

The Ins and Outs of How Banks Make Money

How Banks Make Money

Money is the lifeblood of our economy, and banks play a crucial role in keeping it flowing. While most people understand that banks make money by lending it out, there are a multitude of other ways that banks make a profit.

In this article, well explore the various ways banks make money, including interest on debt and banking fees. Well also take a deeper dive into one specific type of fee – interchange fees – and how they help financial institutions boost their bottom lines.

Interest on Debt

One of the primary ways that banks make money is by charging interest on loans and other forms of debt. Interest is essentially the cost of borrowing money, and its calculated as a percentage of the total loan amount.

For example, lets say you take out a $10,000 loan with a 5% interest rate. Over the course of a year, youll pay $500 in interest charges, which is added to the principal amount you borrowed.

This means youll need to pay back a total of $10,500, plus any additional fees or charges that may be incurred. Banks make a profit on this interest by borrowing money from depositors (people who put money into savings accounts, CDs, and other interest-bearing accounts) at a lower interest rate than they charge on loans.

So, for instance, a bank might pay 1% interest on deposits and charge 5% interest on loans, pocketing the difference as profit.

Banking Fees

While interest on loans and deposits is a significant revenue stream for banks, its not the only way they make money. Banks also charge a variety of fees for their services and products, including account maintenance fees, inactivity fees, overdraft charges, and more.

Account maintenance fees are typically charged monthly to keep the account active, regardless of whether or not you use any of the banks services. Inactivity fees are levied when an account goes unused for a certain period of time, such as one year.

Overdraft or insufficient fund charges arise when you try to spend more money than is available in your account. Banks will typically charge this fee every time they cover an overdraft or insufficient fund transaction, which can add up quickly.

Excessive withdrawal fees may be charged if you exceed the number of withdrawals allowed on your savings account in a given period, such as per month. Wire transfer fees are assessed when you transfer money from one bank to another, whether domestically or internationally.

Paper statement fees and debit card replacement fees are charged for non-digital services. ATM fees are levied on customers who use ATMs that are not part of the banks network.

Bad check penalties may be charged if you overdraw your account using a paper check. Minimum balance charges may be assessed if you keep your account below a certain threshold, or if you allow it to lapse into a zero balance.

Interchange Fees

While banking fees are one way that banks make money, theres another less-understood way that they rake in revenue: interchange fees. Interchange fees are transaction fees that banks charge merchants for processing credit and debit card payments.

Every time you use your credit or debit card, the merchant youre purchasing from pays a fee to the bank that issued your card. This fee is typically a percentage of the transaction amount, and it varies depending on a number of factors such as the card type and the merchants industry.

For instance, a typical interchange fee for a Visa or Mastercard may range from 1.5% to 2.5% of the transaction amount. This may not sound like a lot, but when you consider how many transactions take place on a daily basis, these fees can quickly add up to a significant sum.

So why do banks charge interchange fees? For one, they provide a valuable service to merchants by handling the complex and costly process of processing card payments.

Additionally, banks can use these fees to offset the costs of maintaining and upgrading their payment networks, as well as to earn a profit. While interchange fees have been controversial in recent years due to concerns about their transparency and fairness to merchants, they remain an important source of revenue for banks.


Banks make money in a variety of ways, from interest on loans and deposits to a wide range of fees for their services. Interchange fees are just one way that banks rake in revenue, but theyre a particularly important one due to the sheer volume of transactions that take place every day.

Understanding how banks make money is important not just for your own financial wellbeing, but for the health of the economy as a whole.

Expenses Banks Pay

Banks, like any other type of business, have expenses that they must pay in order to stay operational. These expenses include everything from employee salaries to rent and taxes.

In this section, well explore the types of expenses that banks typically incur.


Interest Expenses

Non-interest expenses are those that are not related to the interest charges that banks earn on loans and deposits. This category includes expenses such as salaries, rent, equipment costs, taxes, and professional services.

Salaries are one of the largest non-interest expenses that banks pay. Banks need a variety of employees to keep their operations running smoothly, including tellers, loan officers, and branch managers.

These employees require salaries, health insurance, retirement benefits, and other perks, which can quickly add up to a significant expense. Rent is another major expense for banks, as they need physical locations to conduct their business.

Banks may choose to rent space in a shopping center or office building or purchase their own property outright. Either way, the cost of occupying space in a desirable location can be substantial.

Equipment costs are another non-interest expense for banks. This includes everything from computer hardware and software to office furniture and ATMs. Banks must invest in the latest technology to stay competitive, which can make this a significant expense.

Taxes can also be a major expense for banks. Banks must pay federal, state, and local taxes like any other business.

Additionally, banks are subject to unique taxes like the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) premium, which is a fee that banks pay to FDIC to protect their customers in case of bank failure. Finally, professional services like legal and accounting help is often essential for banks to stay compliant with regulations and financial auditing standards.

All of these costs add up, and non-interest expenses represent a significant percentage of a banks operating costs.

Interest Expenses

In addition to non-interest expenses, banks also incur interest expenses, which are related to the interest banks pay on their own borrowing activities. Banks may incur interest expenses on loans, account holder deposits, and trading account liabilities.

Interest on loans and account holder deposits represents a significant expense for banks because they often pay higher interest rates than they charge their own borrowers. The difference between the interest rate banks earn on loans and the rate they pay to depositors is known as the net interest margin, and it represents a key measure of a banks profitability.

Trading account liabilities are another source of interest expense for banks. When banks lend out money to other financial institutions, they do so at a specific interest rate.

If that interest rate increases, banks must pay more to maintain those loans, and this can increase the cost of maintaining trading account liabilities.

Choosing a Bank

When looking for a bank to entrust with your money, there are several factors to consider. In this section, well go over some of the top things you should keep an eye out for when selecting a bank.

FDIC Insurance

One of the most important factors to look for when choosing a bank is whether they are FDIC insured. The FDIC (Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation) is a government agency that provides financial protection to bank customers in case of bank failure.

The FDIC insures deposits up to $250,000 per depositor per bank, so if your bank goes bankrupt, you can be sure your money is protected.

Bank Fees and Associated Costs

Another important factor to consider is the fees that banks charge. Banks can charge a variety of fees for their services, including monthly maintenance fees, overdraft fees, inactivity fees, wire transfer fees, paper statement fees, ATM fees, bad check fees, and minimum balance fees.

Be sure to thoroughly review the fee schedule before opening an account at any bank to avoid any unpleasant surprises down the line.

Types of Banks

There are different types of banks to consider when selecting the best fit for your needs. Some of the most common types of banks are:

Big Banks: These are national banks that offer access to an extensive collection of banking services to customers.

They are known for their extended customer service and potential partnerships but are often criticized for sacrificing personal customer service for efficient operations. Local Banks: Community-focused banks are better for those looking for personal customer service.

Local banks often offer a more limited range of services, but they may have more competitive rates and more flexible loan options when compared to larger institutions. Credit Unions: Credit unions are not-for-profit institutions that operate in the same way as banks but with a smaller reach.

One of the benefits of credit unions is that they have easier loan approval processes and lower fees due to their not-for-profit status. Online Banks: Online banks exist entirely online and offer free services, higher interest rates, and lower fees than traditional brick-and-mortar banks.

However, limited physical access to ATMs and bank branches can be a drawback to some customers.


Choosing a bank, understanding how banks make money, and the expenses they pay is an essential part of keeping your financial wellness in check. Knowing the different types of banks and their associated fees and services can help you choose the right establishment for your needs.

While non-interest expenses and interest expenses are a significant part of any banks cost structure, understanding how they make money plays a pivotal role in making informed financial decisions. In summary, understanding how banks make money by charging interest on loans and deposits as well as the various fees they impose on customers is essential in making informed financial decisions.

Banks also incur non-interest and interest expenses, which can have a significant impact on their profitability. When choosing a bank, consider factors such as FDIC insurance, associated fees, and types of banks available.

Being knowledgeable in these areas will help you maximize your financial well-being and choose a bank that meets your needs. Remember, informed decisions lead to financial stability, and financial stability is the key to a prosperous future.

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