NEW YORK (6/21/10)--Banks are preparing new fees on basic banking services to recoup revenue losses from the financial crisis and from new regulations. Free checking may become harder to find. But consumers can turn to credit unions to mitigate the fee hikes, said two national finance publications last week. Articles in SmartMoney.com (June 17) and Bankrate.com (June 18) pointed out that banks are starting to charge for checking accounts, especially for low activity or balances below a minimum. Some will offer tiered fees, based on how much a consumer uses their services. "Credit unions, online banks and smaller community banks will continue to be viable alternatives either for free checking accounts, or very low cost accounts--with low hurdles to avoid fees," said Greg McBride, Bankrate.com senior financial analyst, in the Bankrate article. Bankratesaid that "for banking customers simply looking for an inexpensive place to park cash from time to time, smaller banks and credit unions may offer a banking experience more in line with their lifestyle." "As Bankrate recently found, 39 of the 50 largest credit unions offer free checking accounts," said the article. "And that will continue to be a viable alternative for consumers looking to obtain free checking or avoid fees that may be instituted on their current checking account relationships," said McBride. In SmartMoney.com, McBride noted that credit unions and smaller community banks are more likely to offer free checking with fewer strings. Consumers must keep in mind that "if you think you can't join a credit union, you may be wrong about that," said Linda Sherry, spokeswoman for Consumer Action, a financial literacy advocacy group. The article pointed readers to the website for the Credit Union National Association (CUNA) and linked to CUNA's CU Locator site. MoneyRates.com data indicate that the average minimum balance required for a free checking account has been creeping up to $4,621.05 as of January--a 7.85% increase in the past six months, said the SmartMoney article. It advises consumers faced with increased fees for checking to: shop around, move money out of savings into checking to increase their balance, bundle services with one financial institution; and bank online and use debit cards, which cost less to process. To review the articles, use the links.