Bankrate's 2011 Checking Account Survey captures the beginning of a possible reshaping of the checking account landscape.
Gone are the days when free checking was a given. Fees are up, and less than half of noninterest checking accounts today are free. That number is likely to drop further as banks and their customers adjust to recent regulatory changes in banking.
"(Free checking) became such a commodity in recent years, that there's been this assumption that you can get free checking without even trying," says Greg McBride, CFA, senior financial analyst at Bankrate. "Well, you can still get free checking, only now you have to try a little bit. You have to shop around."
Ajay Nagarkatte, managing director of Chicago-based BAI Research, agrees free checking likely won't disappear entirely, but it will come with more strings attached.
"We're in a new normal where someone must anticipate some kind of a maintenance fee, unless you somehow exchange value and subsidize that maintenance fee," he says.
Bankrate's data come from surveying the five largest banks and five largest thrifts in 25 of the nation's biggest markets from Aug. 1-12, 2011. Bankrate asked institutions about terms on one generic noninterest account and one interest-bearing account for the general consumer.
Based on the study's results, here are seven ways checking accounts have changed in the last year and how you can adapt to keep your checking costs low.