There’s Still No Reason to Pay for a Checking Account

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Recent reform measures that restrict debit-card overdraft fees and tighten credit card regulations are expected to save consumers as much as $5 billion this year. No one expects the banks to sit back and do nothing while once-easy revenue streams dry up, and the speculation is that one tactic banks may soon bank on is the reintroduction of checking account fees, which some banks have already begun charging. But consumers shouldn’t roll over and give up on free checking just yet.

There are plenty of resources out there to assist in the quest for a new bank, ideally one that still offers free checking. Here’s a round-up of recent stories and posts that cover the topic inside and out:

SmartMoney’s “Find Free Checking Accounts Now advises consumers to meet checking account minimum balance requirements by shifting money from savings to checking accounts, even if that means sacrificing some interest—no big deal because savings account interest rates are pathetic now anyway. Also, a resource is recommended for shopping around for online banks that offer free checking and fewer fees than brick-and-mortar counterparts:

BancVue Interactive runs a web site, CheckingFinder.com, where consumers can search for free checking accounts that reward consumers for going high-tech.

“Dumping your Bank? How to Find a New One,” an LA Times piece, lays out several options, admitting that big banks are in fact better for many customers, mainly because of the convenience factor, but making the case that smaller often equates to “more customer friendly.” Here’s some of the argument for doing business with credit unions:

If you’re a regular consumer seeking an alternative to the big banks, a credit union might be your best bet.

“Consumer banking is what credit unions do,” said Edward J. Carpenter, an Irvine investment banker who has advised hundreds of start-up banks.

Credit unions don’t actually have customers; they have members. To join one, you have to be in a group the credit union serves. But it’s usually easy to find credit unions you can join. One may serve residents of the area you live in. Another may cater to employees at your workplace. To search for one, go to the National Credit Union Administration website.

USA Today’s “How to Steer Clear of Checking Account Fees” also presents the range of banking options, including some particularly enticing offers that pay off well, provided you’re fully aware and are able to abide by the fine print:

Some banks and credit unions offer free checking accounts that pay interest rates of 3% or more. The catch? You’re usually required to set up direct deposit, receive your bank statements online, pay your bills online, and use your debit card 10 to 15 times a month. Stray from these rules, and your interest rate will shrivel.

Finally, WalletPop swears you can can “Find a New Bank in 10 Minutes or Less” using online comparison tools available at sites such as FindaBetterBank.com and MyBankTracker.com.

This is true. You can find a new bank very quickly. If you’re like me, however, you’ll want to review all of these resources and more, and you’ll stress about the decision and lose sleep over it, and well, it’ll take a lot longer than 10 minutes. But the process is worth it if you can switch banks and save the $15 a month—that’s $180 a year—that some institutions are charging for checking account maintenance fees. Making the switch isn’t just about saving some money; it’s also about being comfortable with the institution that’s holding your money. If you trust the companies you do business with, you’ll sleep better at night, and you can’t put a price on that.

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