2010 Checking Study
More banks are yanking free checking

As if the rapid changes in the regulatory environment weren't enough, Ely also cites rock-bottom interest rates making consumer deposits less valuable to banks because they can't lend that money back out at high rates like they did when the economy was healthy.

"The current interest rate environment and regulatory environment is forcing a lot of really fundamental rethinking of the delivery of retail banking services, both from the revenue standpoint as well as the cost standpoint," says Ely.

All this points to free checking with no strings attached becoming less prevalent. Fortunately, account holders can still dodge monthly service fees, often without switching banks. If you begin seeing service fees on your monthly statement, try asking your bank about other accounts they have that don't levy fees. If that doesn't work, try asking your bank if it offers fee waivers. While free accounts compose only 65 percent of noninterest checking accounts, Bankrate's 2010 Checking Study shows that number rising to 88 percent when you add in accounts that offer fee waivers for meeting conditions like signing up for direct deposit.

If your bank begins charging a monthly service fee and you can't or don't want to jump through those hoops, there's always shopping around on Bankrate for a better deal. With so many banks and credit unions still offering free checking, there's no reason to stick around and pay high fees.

The 2010 Bankrate Checking Study data are gathered by surveying the top 10 banks and thrifts in 25 of the country's biggest markets. We asked those institutions about terms on one generic noninterest account and one interest-bearing account most applicable to the general consumer.

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