Free checking is coming to end thanks to new Financial reform regulation that will force banks to cut overdraft and ATM fees, which traditionally covered the cost of providing free checking accounts. Bank of America and Wells Fargo, US banks with the largest branch networks, have already started to discontinue free checking accounts for new customers. Existing customers are safe for now, but this could change as no restriction free checking accounts are scaled back over time. Most basic checking accounts will soon carry a $2 to $10 monthly account keeping fee. However, there are ways to avoid these monthly account fees that include:
- Maintain a minimum deposit. Most banks, as they do today, will waive their monthly account keeping fees if you maintain a specified minimum balance. This minimum balance is generally between $1000 and $2000 and is calculated as an average over the month or end-of month balance. So, rather than keep the majority of your funds in a high interest savings account it may be more cost effective to put just enough money in your checking account to meet the minimum requirements for avoiding bank fees.
- Direct Deposit. Another way to avoid monthly account fees is to have a direct deposit to your checking account. Most big banks will waive their account keeping fees if you have at least one or two direct deposits (over $100), like your pay check or SSI payment. I used this feature when opening a Bank of America checking account a couple of years ago, but then also scheduled an automated transfer to my higher yielding online savings account a couple of days later. This allowed me to avoid the monthly checking account fee while earning more interest on my savings in a higher yielding online savings account.
- One-stop combo banking. In most cases if you have a mortgage or credit card with a bank, they will be more than willing to offer to offer you a free checking account or waive the associated fees. All you need to do is call them up and (based on personal experience) they will be happy to have your business and in some cases will even offer a bonus for bringing all your banking needs to them.
- Go with a credit union. If you’re just plain ol’ sick of dealing with banks and their rising fees then go with a local credit union. In most cases their accounts are fee-free and straight forward. They may not have all the features of a “majors” bank account, but should meet the checking account needs of most people.
In the next few weeks and months, look for letters from the various financial institutions you have accounts with on potential new fees and/or tighter conditions to keep your current banking free. There should still be ways as mentioned above to avoid these monthly fees but one thing is for sure, the days of 100% free banking are gone.