While the move to free checking may have eased at big banks, consumers who do pay a monthly fee have seen that cost jump to record highs, according to a survey by Bankrate.com
The average fee to maintain a checking account rose from $5.48 to $5.54 per month this year.
Bankrate’s Checking Survey saw new record highs for some ATM fees, overdraft fees and monthly maintenance fees.
Banks now charge non-customers an average of $2.60 to use their ATMs, up from $2.50 last year. The average fee your own bank will charge you for going out of network is down a few percentage points from last year, to $1.53 — but combined, you’ll pay a total of $4.13 to make a withdrawal at an out-of-network ATM.
Moreover, checking fees are easy to avoid at many banks.
Of the 473 checking accounts that Bankrate surveyed, 97 percent were either free or could become free if account holders met certain requirements, such as signing up for direct deposit, said Greg McBride, CFA, senior financial analyst for Bankrate.com.
One group that might have a hard time with that is the unemployed, McBride said.
“Their paycheck goes away, and now, all of a sudden, they’re getting socked with a monthly fee on their checking account at a time when they can least afford it,” he said.
Beyond direct deposit, there’s another way to avoid monthly fees, said Karin Bonding, a lecturer in personal finance at the University of Virginia’s McIntire School of Commerce. Shop around.
“You don’t have to go to a bank, there are other options,” Bonding says. “I don’t want to pay a fee for something that one, I can get for free, and two, that I’m not gaining anything from.”
Instead, she suggests checking out a credit union or online financial services provider, such as Fidelity Investments or Charles Schwab, which may offer the same services with no balance requirements “or other gotchas.”