Bank Fees Continue to Increase as Free Checking Becomes Rarer and Rarer

by Edward O'Brien 0

A recent Bankrate.com survey shows checkingaccount fees and restrictions continue to increase, while theavailability of truly free checking is becoming rarer. The averagerequired minimum balance is now over $700, according to thesurvey.

According to Bankrate, only 39 percent of non-interest bearingchecking accounts were free of any fees or minimum balancerequirements, down from 45 percent last year and the peak of 76percent in 2009. These statistics, as well as those from similarsurveys, are causing consumers to look at their own situations moreclosely and critically.

The Bankrate survey also noted ATM fees continue to increase. Theaverage fee charged by a bank to a non-customer using one of itsATMs was $2.50, up four percent year-over-year. It was the eighthstraight year average ATM surcharge fees increased. Similarly,banks increased the amount they charged their own customers to useother banks’ ATMs to an average of $1.57 per transaction, andincreased overdraft fees 1.4 percent to a record high of$31.46.

Still, consumers have choices when banking, and can make decisionsbased on their own preferences and specific financial needs. Freechecking is attainable without tying up significant amounts ofmoney by being creative, including using direct deposit or movingfunds to a bank or credit union that offers free checking.

Additionally, consumers can single out banks and credit unions thatoffer surcharge-free ATMs, many of which are community banks andcredit unions. And while these smaller financial institutions mayappear to have a limited service area, many are affiliated withnetworks of shared branches throughout the United States. Some alsohave international coverage. This all means customers and membersof these financial institutions can enjoy similar geographicalcoverage, and in some cases expanded coverage, than is availablewith large commercial banks.