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Checking account fees rise but less steeply

Checking » Checking Account » Checking Account Fees Rise But Less Steeply

Monthly maintenance fees pack more punch

Monthly maintenance fees pack more punch

While cutbacks to free checking may have slowed at major banks, those who do pay a monthly fee have seen that fee rise to record highs. The average fee you'll pay to maintain a checking account rose from $5.48 to $5.54 per month.

Fortunately, that fee is easy to avoid at many banks. Of the 473 checking accounts that Bankrate surveyed, 97 percent were either free or could become free if account holders met certain requirements such as signing up for direct deposit, McBride says.

One group that might have a hard time with that is the unemployed, McBride says.

"Their paycheck goes away, and now, all of a sudden, they're getting socked with a monthly fee on their checking account at a time when they can least afford it," he says.

Beyond direct deposit, there's another way to avoid monthly fees, says Karin Bonding, a lecturer in personal finance at the University of Virginia's McIntire School of Commerce. Shop around.

"You don't have to go to a bank, there are other options," Bonding says. "I don't want to pay a fee for something that one, I can get for free, and two, that I'm not gaining anything from."

Instead, she suggests checking out a credit union or online financial services provider, such as Fidelity Investments or Charles Schwab, which may offer the same services with no balance requirements or other gotchas.

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