Free checking isn't as common as it used to be. According to Bankrate's 2011 Checking Survey, just 45 percent of noninterest checking accounts are free of monthly charges, down from 65 percent in 2010.
Despite those ominous numbers, there are still a lot of financial institutions, including many online banks, community banks and credit unions, that plan to offer free checking for the foreseeable future.
"It may be that a small bank or a credit union may offer you better terms than one of the big national banks, and many customers don't need the services of a big national bank," Soifer says.
While those types of smaller institutions may not have the same reach in terms of branches and ATMs, not all consumers use those features enough to justify paying a monthly fee for checking.
So if paying monthly fees for having a checking account or debit card leaves you fuming, it may pay to shop around and take your business elsewhere.
"For the one-time inconvenience of switching, you may save a considerable amount in fees," Soifer says.
One caveat: Make sure all the institutions you're considering are insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., or, in the case of credit unions, the National Credit Union Administration. That way, whether you choose to go online or keep it local, you'll have the same $250,000 in deposit insurance you had at your old bank.
-- Claes Bell