Bank On It: Free Checking Is Disappearing, and Service Fees, ATM Fees, and Checking Fees Are Rising

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A new study shows that bank customers are getting less and being charged more for services they’ve come to expect as standard in plain old checking accounts.

The study, conducted by BankRate.com, reveals that 65% of today’s checking accounts don’t have monthly fees or minimum-balance requirements, down from 76% in 2009. Also, if your account has a balance requirement, chances are it’s gone up recently:

For those checking accounts that already require you to keep a minimum average balance, that minimum was up sharply from the 2009 average of $185.75. The minimum average balance for a noninterest checking account is now $249.50, an increase of $63.75 in just one year. Overall, that number is 228 percent higher than 2008′s average of $109.26.

The study also reports that ATM fees, service fees, and bounced-check fees are all up.

Considering that, more often than not, the accounts were talking about here do not generate any interest for the customer, keeping money in a standard, brick-and-mortar-based account with a big bank is increasingly a losing proposition. So, in a bizarre way, saving money often doesn’t save you money.

The only way putting money into such an account actually might help you increase savings is by way of helping you avoid all of the fees associated with not having a bank account— check-cashing fees, money orders, and so on, as one writer recently found out while conducing a month-long no-banking experiment.

The solution, of course, is to choose a bank account carefully. Community banks, credit unions, and many online-only banks typically pay better interest rates and have fewer balance requirements and fees, and when they do have fees, they’re more reasonable than the big banks.

Related:
Bank Fee Watch: No More Free Checking?