Banks are raising fees and doing away with free checking accounts, according to Bankrate.com's 2010 Checking Study, an annual survey of banks' checking account offerings.
In case you missed the study when it was published back in October, here's what you should absolutely know about current trends in banking:
• Free checking. Sixty-five percent of checking accounts in this year's study had neither a monthly service fee nor a minimum balance requirement, down from 76 percent of accounts that met that standard of "free" last year. The sort-of silver lining for banking customers was that 88 percent of accounts could still be classified as "free" this year, when those that included fee waivers, such as for mandatory direct deposit, were added to the total.
• Minimum balances. Minimum balances were up sharply on checking accounts that had such requirements. The average minimum balance on non-interest-bearing accounts was $249.50 this year, up from $185.75 last year. The average minimum balance on interest-bearing accounts was $3,883.40 this year, a $511.22 increase from last year. Customers who dropped their balance below that minimum were hit with an average monthly fee of $13.04.
• NSF check fees. The average fee for a nonsufficient funds, or NSF, check, also known as a "bounced" check, was $30.47 in the current year, a record high in the history of Bankrate's survey.
• ATM fees. Virtually all banks (99 percent) charge nonbank customers a fee for ATM use, while 75 percent also charge their own customers for using a non-network ATM. Those fees were up to $2.33, on average, in 2010 compared with $2.22, on average, in 2009 for the bank whose ATM was used. The average fee banks slapped customers with for using a non-network ATM was $1.41, on average, in 2010 compared with $1.32, on average, in 2009. Add those fees together and the average cost of using a non-network ATM was $3.74 in 2010 compared with $3.54 in 2009. Tap a non-network ATM, say, once a week for a year and the increase alone adds up to an extra $2.40.
What's your strategy to avoid paying higher fees on your checking account?