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CUs keep providing free checking as banks bail out
MADISON, Wis. (3/4/14)--Two new studies indicate that free checking remains a mainstay at credit unions while banks continue to charge increasing fees on checking accounts. Also, free checking at banks continues to decrease.
 
Bankrate's 2014 Credit Union Checking Survey found that 72% of the nation's 50 largest credit unions offer a free checking account, which means there are no monthly service fees or point-of-sale transaction fees associated with the account.
 
In contrast, the percentage of free checking accounts at banks fell to 38% in 2013 from 76% in 2009, according to Bankrate's data.
 
The Bankrate checking survey was also covered in a March 3 CNNMoney article. Use the link.
 
Even credit unions that don't offer free checking provide ways for members to avoid monthly fees. For instance, Alaska USA FCU in Anchorage, Alaska, waives its $5 monthly service fee if a member signs up for direct deposit. Factoring in these kinds of waivers, which also include signing up for e-statements or maintaining a minimum balance, the number of free checking accounts jumps to 96%, Bankrate reported.
 
Meanwhile, checking account fees were on the rise as free checking accounts at banks continued to disappear, the latest MoneyRates.com Bank Fees Survey found. Checking accounts got more expensive in the second half of 2013, based on a number of factors measured by the survey.
 
Monthly service fees, overdraft fees and ATM fees all climbed during the period. Also, the proportion of free checking accounts dropped below 30% for the first time in the survey's history.
 
The average overdraft fee at banks rose by 43 cents, to $32.03, MoneyRates.com said. Customers who use an ATM outside their own bank's network can potentially get hit by two fees: One from their own bank, and one from the bank that owns the ATM. Both of these types of fees climbed in the latter half of 2013, with the out-of-network fees banks charge their own customers rising by 8 cents to $1.45, while the average fee banks charge for non-customers using their ATMs rose by 7 cents, to $2.55.
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