MADISON, Wis. (9/28/11)--Free checking at big banks is on the way out in 2011, while the banking industry increased fees, charges and penalties for account overdrafts, said the Bankrate 2011 Checking Account Survey. This could create opportunities for credit unions to bolster their membership through free checking and fewer or lower fees. The survey found that only 45% of noninterest checking accounts now are free--down from the zenith of 76% two years ago (Bankrate.com Sept. 27). However, if customers meet certain conditions, such as signing up for direct deposit, banks still will offer free checking, Bankrate said. In this year’s study, records were set in two categories. For the 13th consecutive year, fees for non-sufficient funds--or overdrafts--reached a new high at the nation’s largest banks. Also, ATM fees climbed to their highest level for the seventh consecutive year. To obtain its data, Bankrate.com surveyed the five biggest U.S. banks and five largest thrifts in the 25 largest US. markets during the period of Aug 1-12. It considered one interest and one noninterest account at 247 institutions offering checking accounts. The survey joined several others that recently have indicated large banks are eliminating free checking since the Federal Reserve announced its rules capping interchange fees. For more information on the survey, use the link.