Where Are All Those Free Checking Accounts Hiding?


We keep hearing that free checking is still out there… somewhere. But finding an account with no monthly fee can be a challenge. A new report says free checking accounts still exist, but getting one might mean downsizing. The U.S. Public Interest Research Group looked at 250 banks and found that 60% of small banks have free checking accounts.

That’s not so bad, but at big banks, that number drops to 25%.

The report also finds that fees for monthly maintenance, overdrafts, and the use of non-network ATMs at small banks are lower, as are the minimum balance requirements to avoid the monthly fee.

Customers at small banks may be able to avoid out-of-network ATM fees entirely, though. The report says that about a quarter of small banks have joined up with multi-bank networks to provide free ATM access outside of the area where their branches are located. Networks like Plus, Smartpass, Presto, and the SUM network offer customers a big-bank perk — convenient free ATM access — without the big bank.

If you still want the convenience of a big bank for other reasons as well as free checking, PIRG says your best shot is to get direct deposit; 59% of big banks waive monthly maintenance fees for people who get direct deposit. Some of these do have minimum amounts that you need to have deposited. Although $250 is pretty common now, PIRG notes that there’s some early experimentation with four-figure minimum deposits.

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