The free checking account will soon be gone.
According to a survey released by Bankrate.com only 45% of non-interest bank checking accounts are free, down from 65% in 2010 and 76% two years ago. Fees, meanwhile, are rising: The average monthly fee for a non-interest account is $4.37, up 75% from a year ago.
Banks are adding fees to recover from new regulations that could cost billions in lost revenue, says Greg McBride, senior financial analyst for Bankrate. Starting Oct. 1, the maximum fee banks can charge retailers when customers pay with a debit card is 21 cents, down from an average of 44 cents. Last year, the Federal Reserve Board prohibited overdraft fees unless customers sign up for the service.
“When the government intervenes in markets and eliminates a source of income, a bank, like any other business, has to find some way to make up that lost income,” says Nessa Feddis, senior counsel for the American Bankers Association.
The survey found that only 2% of banks and thrifts charge a monthly debit card fee. That may be changing. In November, SunTrust will charge customers in its basic checking account a $5 monthly debit card usage fee. To avoid it, they must either stop using their debit cards for purchases or upgrade to a Solid Choice account, which requires a $5,000 daily balance.
Options for consumers who want to avoid other fees:
•Direct deposit. Most banks will waive fees on non-interest checking if customers have their paychecks electronically deposited in their accounts, McBride says. Banks want customers to use direct deposit because it saves them money, he says.
•Minimum balance. Most account holders can avoid fees if they maintain a minimum balance. However, minimums have soared in the past year. The average minimum balance required for a free checking account that pays interest is $5,587, up 44% from a year ago, according to Bankrate.
The average rate for an interest checking account is 0.08%, according to Bankrate. So most consumers are better off with a non-interest checking account, McBride says. The average minimum balance required to avoid fees on those accounts is $585.
Large banks “have captive customers that they are confident will not vote with their feet,” says Ed Mierzwinski of the U.S. Public Research Interest Group. “The recent increases may be enough to cause people to start … shopping around.”
ATM, Overdraft Fees
Denver tops the list when it comes to having the highest ATM surcharges and overdraft fees, according to a report released Monday by Bankrate.com.
Bankrate compiled the listing by surveying a total of 10 banks and thrifts in each of 25 large markets.
Denver’s ATM surcharge was $2.75. The national average was $2.40. The surcharge was lowest in Cleveland, at $2.02.
Denver also had the highest fee for nonsufficient funds, also known as an overdraft or bounced check fee, at $33.50. The national average was $30.83.
The national average for ATM surcharge is up 3 percent from a year ago, while the overdraft fee is 1 percent higher.