Bank of America has completed the phasing out of a checking account option that was free if customers opted for paperless statements and used ATMs or digital banking for routine transactions like deposits and withdrawals.
The bank stopped offering the product to new customers in 2013, as part of an overall effort to streamline its product set.
Existing accounts have now been rolled over to the bank’s Core Checking product. Customers should note that avoiding this product’s $12 monthly fee is all about how much money is in your account: you must have direct deposits of at least $250 a month or a minimum daily balance of at least $1,500 to beat the fee.
If you’re one of the customers affected by the change, here are few things to consider.
New account, new fees?
Having account minimums might seem daunting or at least annoying, but the $250 direct deposit requirement is much lower than checking account minimums at most other large banks, according to the 2017 Bankrate.com/MONEY’s Best Banks study.
Chase, Wells Fargo and PNC Bank have a $500 direct deposit minimum. Citibank merely requires a monthly direct deposit, but does not have a set threshold.
So, if you’re already getting more than $250 directly deposited into your account and you’re otherwise happy with Bank of America, this is likely a non-event for you. In fact, you might see this as an upgrade, since you can now use the branch without fear of triggering the $8.95 fee.
Alternative BoA accounts
If you want to stick with Bank of America but don’t want to fret about avoiding the $12 fee each month there is a cheaper option. For $4.95 a month, you can sign up for the bank’s SafeBalance account. There is no way to avoid this lower fee, and one of the key features of the SafeBalance account is that it doesn’t offer overdraft protection. Transactions are declined or returned unpaid if you don’t have enough money in your account. This account, which the bank rolled out in 2014, is similar to products that are being tested by Chase and Wells Fargo.
Shop around for new options
This could also be the right time to reconsider your relationship with Bank of America. Are you a customer because you chose this bank deliberately, or do like the fact that it has the closest bank branch to your home? Maybe this is where your parents set up your account when you headed off to college?
There are more than 11,400 banks and credit unions in the U.S., so reassessing if your needs might be better served somewhere else is smart. Consider using checking account comparison tools like those offered by Bankrate.
If you prefer to have a bank with a massive branch and ATM network, larger regional banks like Capital One and KeyBank offer checking accounts that have no monthly service fee, while KeyBank’s $15 fee can be easily avoided with a minimum daily balance of $100. If those banks do not operate in your community check to see what the ones in your area offer.
“For consumers who get a regular paycheck, direct deposit is often a low hurdle to clear to get a free checking account. But for the increasing numbers of Americans in the gig economy, or those paid largely in cash, it can be a tough requirement,” says Greg McBride, CFA, Bankrate’s chief financial analyst. “Fortunately, Bankrate.com found 38% of banks and 84% of credit unions offer a free checking account with no strings attached—including no direct deposit requirement.”
Take the digital plunge
If you’re an eBanking customer, that means you’ve likely grown accustomed to relying on digital channels, since one of the key ways to avoid that account’s $8.95 fee is to not conduct routine transactions with tellers.
In that case, a move to an online-only bank or a fintech app might be a great fit for you. Institutions like Bank of Internet, Ally Bank or EverBank do not have a monthly service fee and they offer interest-bearing accounts to boot.
The chief drawback with online banks is the fact it can be challenging or even impossible to deposit cash in an account. If a $250 direct deposit minimum is an issue, there is a chance you are working in the service industry or another job where cash is a big part of your compensation. If this sounds like you, check out fintech firm Chime, which has no fees and promises to help you keep better tabs on your money, allows you to deposit cash at any Green Dot location. Note that Green Dot may charge a fee for cash deposits.