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Checking account fees rise but less steeply

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Checking account fees stabilize
Checking account fees stabilize

The bad news: Checking fees hit a record high in Bankrate's 2013 Checking Survey. The good news: Free checking may survive after all.

This year's Checking Survey saw new records for some ATM fees, overdraft fees and monthly maintenance fees. But after years of steep declines, the share of checking accounts considered free may finally be stabilizing.

Between 2009 and 2012, free checking declined from 76 percent of checking accounts to 39 percent. This year, 38 percent of checking accounts offered by major banks are free, down just 1 percentage point from last year's study.

So why are banks easing up slightly on the fee front? It may be because they're feeling less pressure from shareholders to boost profits. According to recently released data from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., commercial banks and thrifts earned profits of $42.2 billion in the second quarter of 2013, up 22.6 percent from the previous year.

But don't get too comfortable; further regulatory changes, such as a deeper cut to the "swipe fees" merchants pay to banks, could touch off another cascade of fee increases, says Greg McBride, CFA, senior financial analyst for Bankrate.com.

Here's what's going on with some of the most common fees charged to checking account holders.

Methodology: Bankrate surveyed 10 banks and thrifts in each of the 25 largest U.S. markets.

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