Majority of Credit Unions Offer 'No-Strings' Free Checking; Banks 39%

San Francisco Federal Credit Union

Seventy-two percent of the nation’s 50 largest credit unions offer free checking accounts without minimum balance or direct deposit requirements, according to a survey released today.
That’s in sharp contrast with the 39 percent of banks that Bankrate determined in September that offer stand-alone free checking with no strings attached.
Moreover, 96 percent of the credit union checking accounts are free, or can become free, with direct deposit, e-statements, transaction activity, other accounts/balances or some combination of these actions, according to the credit unions surveyed.
Since 2010, stand-alone free checking accounts at credit unions have declined slight from 78 percent to 72 percent. At banks, the percentage has sunk from 65 percent to 39 percent.
“While banks have significantly scaled back free checking accounts, free checking remains the rule, rather than the exception, among credit unions,” said Greg McBride, CFA,’s senior financial analyst.
But also found that credit unions’ average ATM surcharge increased 10 percent over the past year, from $2.08 to $2.29.
Credit unions by a margin of 3-to-1 increased their average ATM surcharge, versus decreasing the fee. Surcharging is widespread at both banks and credit unions, with $2 and $3 the most common amounts assessed by credit unions and $3 the most common by banks.
An ATM surcharge is the fee that an ATM operator charges a non-customer.
Additional findings from

  • Half of the credit union checking accounts that Bankrate surveyed have no minimum opening deposit requirement and none of the 50 accounts require more than $100 to open.
  • 74 percent have no minimum balance requirement, 18 percent have a monthly fee regardless of balance, and the remaining 8 percent have a fee that can be waived by maintaining a balance of no more than $750.
  • The range of monthly service fees on the accounts is $1 to $10, with $2 and $5 the most common.
  • The range of non-sufficient funds (NSF) fees at credit unions is $12 to $37. This compares to $18 to $38.50 at banks.
  • The most common NSF fee at credit unions is $30, compared with $35 at banks.
  • Credit union fees for debit cards and debit card transactions are rare (present on less than 5 percent of accounts in each case).
  • 30 percent of credit unions either do not charge a fee to use another bank’s ATM or provide at least one free withdrawal per week.

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