FOSTER CITY, Calif. (8/20/13)--The percentage of banks offering free checking dropped again in the first half of the year, a clear indication that credit unions remain the smarter choice for fee-conscious consumers.
Less than 30.31% of banks surveyed had no monthly maintenance fee--the lowest percentage since 2009, when MoneyRates.com launched its Bank Fees Survey. That figure is a drop from 36.6% recorded at the end of 2012. In 2011, roughly 34.7% reported charging no fees--the lowest percentage until now.
Online banks were more likely to have fee-free maintenance of checking accounts (78.95%) than brick and mortar banks (27.70%), findings that were attributed by the report to the lower overhead costs of online banks. The average monthly service fee for a checking account was $12.43.
Not only are fewer banks offering free checking, they have increased the fees they charge for overdrafts, said MoneyRates.com. The average overdraft fee rose in 2013 to $31.60, compared with $30.01 at year-end 2012.
If a checking account customer overdrafts an account three times within a year, the charge would be $243.96 in monthly and overdraft fees for that year, said MoneyRates.com.
According to the Credit Union National Association's 2013-2014 CUNA Fees Report, there is no contest on where consumers can go to avoid paying checking fees: 82% of credit unions surveyed offered free checking in 2012, similar to previous fees reports.
MoneyRates.com also found that the size of the financial institution also affected whether a consumer would pay a checking account fee, but the difference wasn't as great as the difference between online and traditional banks. Large banks charger higher monthly and ATM fees than smaller and medium-sized counterparts and are less likely to offer free checking. Overdraft fees tend to be lowest at large banks and highest at small banks, with medium-sized banks in the middle, said the study.
The survey includes no credit union data. Instead, it is based on the MoneyRates Index, a sampling of 100 banks consisting of the 50 largest U.S. retail banks by deposit and 50 smaller banks.