Finance Globe

U.S. financial and economic topics from several finance writers.
3 minutes reading time (517 words)

Free Checking Accounts Are Slowly Going Away

Just a few years ago, free checking accounts were abundant. In fact, banks were basically paying for customers by offering free gifts and sometimes even cash bonuses for signing up and referring new customers. Those days are gone. According to a recent survey from, only 39% of banks offer a completely free checking account, one that doesn’t have a minimum balance requirement. Last year, the number was 45% and in 2009, it was 75%. Free checking accounts are an endangered species and may soon be extinct.

Banks are replacing free checking accounts with accounts that charge a monthly service fee averaging $5.48 each month, also up from last year. Considering that’s the average amount, the monthly fee could actually be much higher than that.

It’s not just checking account fees that are on the rise. ATM fees, charged when you use another bank’s ATM, are also higher than they were last year. The average ATM fee is $2.50 and that’s just what you pay to the ATM owner. You’ll also have to pay a fee to your bank for using an ATM that’s out of the network. You can avoid ATM fees by using your own bank’s ATMs, withdrawing cash from a bank branch (by writing a check for cash), or by making a “cash-back” debit card transaction at a store.

While checking accounts aren’t automatically free, you may be able to achieve a free account by having fees waived. Depending on the bank and your account, you can have the monthly maintenance fee waived if you meet certain requirements like maintaining a certain minimum balance or having a certain amount direct deposited into your account each month. You may be able to link your checking and savings accounts at the same institution and have the combined balances used toward the minimum balance requirement. If a fee applies in any month, it will be automatically deducted from your balance each month you don’t meet the necessary balance or deposit requirements.

One of the reasons banks have begun imposing fees is to make up for the revenue lost to stricter overdraft policies required by the government. Banks are no longer allowed to charge overdraft fees on certain transactions unless a customer has opted-in to having these transactions processed. Otherwise, banks are required to decline debit card transactions that would overdraft an account.

Unfortunately for some consumers, opting-out only applies to debit card transactions. Checks and other nondebit transactions can still cause you to overdraft. However, you can still avoid these fees by making sure you have enough money in your account to cover your pending transactions. Check your account balance often and be aware of outstanding transactions, especially those set to autodraft from your account. Download your bank’s app to your smartphone to stay up-to-date on your account.

Fortunately, you’re not completely out of luck when it comes to getting a free checking account. Bankrate’s survey says that 72% of largest credit unions still offer free checking account. Don’t rule out your local or community credit union. They may have the best deal of all.

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Sunday, 16 June 2024

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