Bankrate.com has just released its annual look at checking account and ATM fees in markets across the country. It'll probably come as no surprise that this was another year of higher bank fees and fewer free checking accounts.
The average overdraft fee is up for a 15th consecutive year, increasing 3 percent to a record high of $32.20. The average ATM surcharge hit another new high, rising for the 9th year in a row, up 4 percent to $2.60. And when you add in the fee your own bank charges, the average cost of going outside the ATM network is now $4.13, a new high and up 1.5 percent from last year.
The availability of no-strings-attached free checking fell for a 4th consecutive year, with 38 percent of noninterest accounts free to all customers. Just 3 percent of interest checking accounts are free, the same as last year. However, 97 percent of accounts surveyed, both interest and noninterest, are either free or can become free. The most common requirements to get the fee waived are direct deposit for noninterest accounts, and on interest accounts, maintaining a certain balance either in the checking account or among other accounts.
Finally, fees for debit card usage are rare, with only 4 percent of accounts charging at the point-of-sale and fewer than 1 percent of accounts assessing a fee to carry the card.
While fees continue to climb and free checking is less prevalent, the momentum of the changes has clearly slowed from what has been seen in the past few years. But consumers should understand that the fees aren't going away, so it is as important as ever to strategize on how to avoid them.
For more information on avoiding checking account and ATM fees, and to the find the best checking account for your needs, just click on the bank accounts tab at Bankrate.com.