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Exclusive   2007 Checking Study
  STATISTIC: Bounced-check fee climbs 3 percent to $28.23. Checking account  
  fees keep going up, Bankrate's survey shows.  

Banking fees up again
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Banks' ATM fees for own customers stay low
There is some good news in the survey. The average fee charged by banks when their own customers use another bank's ATM remains at the lowest level since 2002, holding steady at $1.25. The trend evident in surveys of the past two years has been for banks to enhance customer satisfaction by providing free or lower-cost access to nonbank automated teller machines. However, it doesn't erase the customer's exposure to a surcharge by the ATM owner unless the bank has a reimbursement policy in place.

There have been some new entrants to the field of online checking. In particular, there has been an increase in free, interest-bearing checking accounts available via the Internet. The yields are nothing to sneeze at, with some reaching 4 percent or more.

This is still less than what excess cash can earn in a high-yield money market or savings account, so it's no reason to let money pile up. But a free checking account that pays interest at a rate that exceeds inflation enables savvy consumers to have their cake and eat it, too.

Action steps
With the trends toward higher fees and balance requirements so firmly entrenched and with the punitive fees continuing to reach new heights, what steps can consumers take to protect themselves? If you'll excuse the bad puns, here are three tips to help you put your best foot forward.

Step 1: Watch where you step. If you step up to an ATM on another bank's turf, you may not hear the boos of a hostile crowd but the greeting may be just as rude -- getting socked with a fee of up to $3. In addition, your own bank may hit you with a fee that averages $1.25.

  -- Posted: Sept. 26, 2007
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Average interest yields keep dropping
ATM fees still rising
Traditional vs. online checking
Winners and losers: Certificates of deposit
Winner or loser: Mortgage shopper
Winner or loser: Home equity loans

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