Bankrate: Free Checking Is More Expensive Than Ever

Monday, 24 Sep 2012 09:57 AM

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Checking accounts are anything but free these days, with fees soaring as high as ever, according to a new survey from data provider Bankrate.com.

To avoid monthly fees, U.S. bank customers must keep an average minimum balance of $723 in checking accounts that pay no interest — up 23 percent over last year, according to Bankrate.com, which analyzed checking accounts at 247 banks and thrifts.

In addition, the average monthly service fee on non-interest checking accounts has hit a record $5.48, up 25 percent from last year.

Editor's Note: I Wish I Were Wrong — Economist Laments Being Right. See Interview.

Only 39 percent of non-interest checking accounts at U.S. banks are available to all customers free of charge, down from 45 percent last year and the peak of 76 percent in 2009, Bankrate.com. added.

The average ATM surcharge (the fee charged by an ATM operator to a non-customer) increased 4 percent to a record $2.50, the eighth straight year that the average ATM surcharge increased, Bankrate.com added.

“Checking accounts that are free on a stand-alone basis continue to diminish. But a free checking account is still within reach of the majority of Americans, whether by getting the fee waived through direct deposit or moving to a bank or credit union that still offers free checking,” Greg McBride, Bankrate.com’s senior financial analyst, said in a statement.

“And consumers that practice good financial habits should rarely — if ever — incur ATM and overdraft fees.”

A sluggish economy and new regulations are squeezing bank revenues, forcing financial institutions to siphon as much money in income wherever possible.

“So what can banks do? Either cut branches or expenses, or charge more for products,” said banking analyst Terry McEvoy of Oppenheimer & Co. in Maine, according to The Cleveland Plain Dealer.

“It seems like a natural reaction to raise prices — my grocery store is doing it.”

Editor's Note: I Wish I Were Wrong — Economist Laments Being Right. See Interview.

© 2014 Moneynews. All rights reserved.

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