Making Your Money Last

How to Nix Checking Fees

Strictly free accounts aren’t the only way to bank - almost all banks and credit unions offer ways around paying fees.

Free checking is getting even easier to find, ac­cording to Bankrate’s 2021 study of checking account and ATM fees. In the survey of 245 banks and thrifts in 25 large U.S. markets, 48% of non-interest-bearing checking accounts were fee-free, the highest number since 2010. And if you are looking for a checking account that pays a bit of interest, 7.6% of those were free, too.

Free checking is generally described as an account that has no minimum-balance requirements, no monthly fees and no activity-use rules that require, for example, that you use your debit card 10 or more times each month. But free doesn’t mean that the account doesn’t charge overdraft or non-network ATM fees. Bankrate found that the average overdraft fee hit a record $33.58 in 2021. However, the average non-network ATM fee dropped again, to $1.51.

But strictly free accounts aren’t the only way to bank. Almost all banks and credit unions offer ways around paying any fees. The most common way to avoid paying an account fee is to have direct deposit. Another way is to maintain a minimum balance.

For example, Chase, which won gold in Kiplinger’s annual best national bank rankings, waives account fees on various accounts. With its popular Total Checking, you can avoid the $12 monthly fee if you have at least $500 in electronic deposits, keep a checking balance of at least $1,500 or have $5,000 or more in combined balances among Chase deposit and investment accounts. (To see more best banks, go to kiplinger.com/kpf/bestbanks21.) If you’re searching for a new account, start at www.depositaccounts.com and select “Free Checking Accounts” under the Checking Accounts navigation tab. Next, use the banking behavior box to narrow the selections. For example, you can input your lowest and highest monthly balance amounts, how often you use your debit card, and whether you plan to receive direct deposits or electronic statements.

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