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55 percent pay no monthly bank fees

By Marcie Geffner ·
Wednesday, September 4, 2013
Posted: 3 pm ET

About 65 percent of bank customers pay $3 or less each month for a checking account, according to a new survey by the American Bankers Association, or ABA, a trade group in Washington, D.C.

The survey of 1,000 adults, conducted by telephone in mid-July, found that 55 percent of bank customers did not pay anything for a checking account. That's down from last year's figure of 59 percent.

Bankrate's own Checking Survey in 2012 found different results. Our  survey found only 39 percent of banks offered a checking account with no minimum balance requirement and no monthly fee, the standard definition of a "free" checking account. That's down from 45 percent in 2011 and down substantially from its peak of 76 percent in 2009.

In the ABA survey, respondents were asked how much they paid each month for banking services. About 10 percent said they paid $3 or less, 8 percent said they paid $4 to $6, 4 percent said they paid $6 to $9, and 14 percent said they paid $10 or more. All of those figures fell from last year's survey, except for those who paid $3 or less. It stayed the same.

In a statement, Nessa Feddis, ABA's senior vice president, said savvy consumers were able to pay less by keeping a minimum balance, using only ATMs owned and operated by their own bank, or taking other steps to avoid fees.

"These results prove that most customers responsibly manage their accounts, allowing them free access to a service that ensures their money is safe and available day and night," Feddis said.

Providing free checking accounts has become more challenging due to federal regulations, competition among banks and customers' prudent management of their bank accounts, Feddis added.

A government-imposed cap on so-called swipe, or interchange, fees that retailers and other merchants pay when a customer uses a debit card to purchase goods or services warranted a special note in the ABA statement.

"This is revenue that banks rely upon to help cover the cost of providing checking accounts," the ABA stated.

The organization also suggested these tips for consumers who want to avoid paying bank account fees.

  • Get free checking and savings accounts. Many banks still offer them.
  • Use direct deposit. Many checking accounts waive fees if a payroll or benefits check is automatically deposited each month.
  • Maintain a minimum account balance. This practice helps to avoid monthly fees and overdrafts.
  • Open multiple accounts at the same bank. Many banks offer additional services at no extra cost to customers who have multiple accounts.
  • Only use ATMs that are owned by or affiliated with the bank where the account is held.
  • Keep track of transactions and account balances to avoid bounced check fees.
  • Sign up for services that automatically send an email or text message if an account balance drops below a specified amount.

Do you have a free checking account? What hoops did you have to jump through to get it?

Follow me on Twitter: @marciegeff.

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1 Comment
September 06, 2013 at 7:13 am

More people are ditching banks and joining a credit union. They're learning.