Increased regulation also will likely diminish the availability of free checking at credit unions in the long term as it has for banks, McBride says.
"Credit unions are being confronted with many of the same regulatory obstacles as banks, so the trend will be much the same. We will see a decreased prevalence of free checking and a greater presence of the fee-waiver policies, things like sign up for online statements and the monthly fee will be waived," McBride says. "However, the difference between credit unions and banks is that the decreased prevalence of free checking is going to be far more evident at banks than what you'll see at credit unions."
In fact, despite the fee increases found in Bankrate's survey, credit unions still enjoy a significant fee advantage over their bank counterparts. For instance, if you make an out-of-network ATM withdrawal and you have your checking account at a bank, you'll pay $2 to your bank in addition to whatever the ATM fee is. Credit union members will pay $1 to $1.50. And 13 of the credit unions that Bankrate surveyed offer a certain number of free out-of-network ATM transactions per month or waive out-of-network fees altogether.
And while credit unions' interest rates followed most other deposit rates downward -- their average annual percentage yield fell from 0.3 percent last year to 0.17 percent this year -- they were still marginally higher than interest checking accounts at banks, which came in at 0.1 percent in our late-2010 survey.
"We are still in an environment of ultra-low interest rates," says McBride. "But the interest rates that you see at credit unions tend to lead on the way up and lag on the way down because credit unions pay out dividends, returning any profit that they make to the members."
This information was gathered the week of Jan. 24, 2011. Check with the institution as details may have changed since then.
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