How Much Basic Checking at a Big Bank Really Costs

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There’s been a lot of media coverage lately about Americans switching from big banks to community banks, credit unions and online banks. That may be a good move for some people, but we’ll come right out and say it: Some consumers need a big bank. Maybe you travel a lot for work and need to bank at a place that has branches around the country. Or maybe you have a kid in college and want to be able to put money into an on-campus account or monitor spending. Or … well, you get the idea. The question is, which big bank is right for you? And for many people these days, the answer to that question comes down to fees.

The average checking account disclosure adds up to 110 pages, according to the Pew Safe Checking Project, so it can be hard to compare apples to apples, especially because large banks offer several tiers of checking accounts. To simplify matters, we took a look at the most basic checking account offered by the 10 biggest retail banks in the U.S. and compared their fees for a handful of basic transactions and common penalties.

(MORE: Bank Transfer Day: The Tally is In)

In some ways, the banks are remarkably similar: All but TD charge 3 percent for using a debit card for a foreign currency transaction, for instance. All except for PNC charge a monthly maintenance fee. But those monthly fees range from $2.99 to $12, and most banks offer a few ways to dodge the fee, such as getting direct deposit (although some banks stipulate that the deposit must be above a certain amount) or having a minimum balance.

When it comes to penalty fees, most banks charge around $35 for overdrawn accounts, although about half have a sliding scale so that small amounts or first-time offenders pay less. Bank of America and Citi automatically block point-of-sale debit purchases if the amount would put the account into the red.

(MORE: Bank Transfer Day, The Day After)

A word about overdrafts: Legislation that went into effect last year banned what used to be a common practice of banks automatically processing point-of-sale debit transactions even if doing so would put the account in the red. Now, if customers want their debit cards to work that way, they have to opt in.

Banks also offer cheaper alternatives: You can link your checking account to a savings account or line of credit, and if a transaction would cause you to overdraw, the money will automatically be transferred from that other location into your checking account for a smaller fee (usually in the $10-$12 range). Even with the new rules, you can still overdraw your account if automatic payments bring the balance below zero or you bounce a check, either of which will get you zapped with a fee.

There are a few other variations and quirks between the offerings. About half the banks we surveyed charge customers to close an account if it’s been open for just a few months; U.S. Bank has a dormancy fee that kicks in if you don’t use the account for a while, a fee SunTrust also charges its Florida customers. HSBC limits its customers to eight free check or withdrawal slip transactions a month, after which they’re 35 cents each.

Chase: Chase Total Checking

Monthly fee: $12

Waived if: $500/month direct deposit, minimum balance of $1,500, or $5,000 combined deposit between linked accounts

Out-of-network ATM withdrawal: $2 ($5 int’l)

Insufficient funds (NSF) fee: $34

Foreign exchange debit card fee: 3%


Bank of America: MyAccess Checking

Monthly fee: $12

Waived if: $250/month direct deposit or minimum balance of $1500

Out-of-network ATM withdrawal: $2 ($5 int’l), waived at banks in BofA’s Global ATM Alliance

Insufficient funds (NSF) fee: $35, point-of-sale transactions are denied if purchase would overdraw account

Foreign exchange debit card fee: 3%


Citi: Basic Banking

Monthly fee: $10

Waived if: one direct deposit and one online bill pay monthly or $1,500 combined deposit between linked accounts

Out-of-network ATM withdrawal: $2

Insufficient funds (NSF) fee: $34, point-of-sale transactions are denied if purchase would overdraw account

Foreign exchange debit card fee: 3%

Other: $25 fee if account is closed within 90 days of opening


Wells Fargo: Value Checking

Monthly fee: $5

Waived if: monthly direct deposit or $1,500 minimum balance

Out-of-network ATM withdrawal: $2.50 ($5 int’l)

Insufficient funds (NSF) fee: $35

Foreign exchange debit card fee: 3%


U.S. Bank: Easy Checking

Monthly fee: $6.95 with electronic statements, $8.95 with paper statements. $0 for customers in Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio and New Mexico

Waived if: $500/month direct deposit, minimum balance of $1,500 or linked automatic savings account; waived for seniors, students and military personnel

Out-of-network ATM withdrawal: $2.50

Insufficient funds (NSF) fee: $0 for less than $10, tiered up to $33

Foreign exchange debit card fee: 3%

Other: $25 fee if account is closed within 180 days of opening, $5 monthly inactivity fee after 13 months


PNC: Free Checking

Monthly fee: $0

Out-of-network ATM withdrawal: $2.50 ($5 int’l)

Insufficient funds (NSF): $25 for first occurrence annually, then $36

Foreign exchange debit card fee: 3%

Other: $25 fee if account is closed within 180 days of opening


HSBC: Basic Banking

Monthly fee: $3

Out-of-network ATM withdrawal: $2.50

Insufficient funds (NSF) fee: $35

Foreign exchange debit card fee: 3%

Other: Eight free checks or withdrawl slips monthly, then 35 cents each, $25 fee if account is closed within six months of opening


TD: TD Simple

Monthly fee: $3.99, $2.99 for paperless statements

Out-of-network ATM withdrawal: $2

Insufficient funds (NSF) fee: $35 if negative balance is over $5

Foreign exchange debit card fee: $0


SunTrust:Everyday Checking

Monthly fee: $7

Waived if: direct deposit or $500 minimum balance

Out-of-network ATM withdrawal: $2 ($5 int’l)

Insufficient funds (NSF) fee: $25 for first occurrence, then $36 if negative balance is over $5

Foreign exchange debit card fee: 3%

Other: $25 fee if account is closed within six months of opening, $15 monthly inactivity fee for Florida accounts


BB&T: Bright Banking

Monthly fee: $10, $12 in Kentucky and Indiana

Waived if: $100/month direct deposit or $1,500 minimum balance or $6,000 combined deposit or loan balances, $2,000 minimum balance or $7,500 combined in Kentucky and Indiana

Out-of-network ATM withdrawal: $2.50 ($5 int’l)

Insufficient funds (NSF): $35 if negative balance is over $5

Foreign exchange debit card fee: 3%

Other: $25 fee if account is closed within 90 days of opening, $7.50 monthly inactivity fee after 12 months

Updated: Nov. 15, 10:45 a.m., to reflect Citi policy on point-of-sale debit transactions that would trigger an overdraft.

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