Financially strapped consumers certainly aren’t catching a break from their banks when it comes to the ever-escalating fees and minimum balance requirements for checking accounts, and fees and surcharges for ATMs.

There are safer havens for savvy customers to be sure, and if you can live with a free checking account — which generally means no interest, you’ll do your finances a favor.

Here’s what Bankrate found in its 2008 checking study:

Methodology: Bankrate.com surveyed one interest checking account and one noninterest checking account at each of the largest banks and thrifts in each of 25 large markets to find the latest trends on checking account and ATM fees. There were 247 interest accounts and 226 noninterest accounts surveyed at 249 banks and thrifts in the top 25 metropolitan areas.

Bankrate.com also looked at 22 checking accounts at 18 institutions offering online accounts and compared them to their brick-and-mortar counterparts.

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