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A checking account at a federally insured bank or credit union is a safe, nearly indispensable tool for everyday financial transactions. But many come with monthly maintenance fees, which can quickly add up and cost you significantly if you’re not aware of them. According to Bankrate’s latest checking account survey, the average monthly fee for noninterest checking accounts is $5.44. That amount would cost you over $65 a year.
Thankfully, there are ways to avoid these costs.
1. Sign up for direct deposit
One of the easiest ways to circumvent checking account fees is to have your paycheck, pension or Social Security benefit electronically deposited into your account.
Many banks require a minimum monthly amount in “qualifying” direct deposits from an employer, corporation, government entity or retirement benefits administrator to waive monthly account fees. Others may only require you to enroll in direct deposit, so make sure to read through any disclosures carefully.
2. Find a bank that doesn’t charge monthly fees
A recent Bankrate survey found that on average, U.S. consumers stick with the same checking account for 17 years. Americans are loath to leave their banks, and understandably so. It’s a big deal to move direct deposits and automatic bill payments and get new debit cards.
But if you’re tired of paying checking account fees, it’s probably time to find a new bank. Online banks generally charge fewer fees because without brick-and-mortar branches to maintain, they have less overhead. They also often pay you higher interest rates, making it doubly easy to save money.
The internet makes switching banks much less hassle than it used to be. You can fill out account applications, transfer funds and complete all the other steps of opening a new account online.
3. Meet the minimum balance requirement
According to Bankrate’s checking account survey, 46 percent of noninterest checking accounts are free, but a further 99 percent of accounts have fees that can easily be waived, such as by meeting a minimum balance requirement.
It’s easy to end up spending at least $65 a year in monthly maintenance fees for a non-interest checking account and $100 a year in monthly maintenance fees for an interest-bearing checking account. A lot of financial institutions will waive those charges if you maintain a minimum balance.
Wells Fargo, for example, waives the $10 monthly fee on its Everyday Checking account if you maintain a daily balance of at least $500 or have $500 in qualifying monthly direct deposits.
Navy Federal Credit Union waives its $10 monthly fee on its interest-bearing Flagship Checking if you maintain a balance of $1,500.
Some banks waive monthly checking account fees if you maintain a minimum aggregate balance across multiple accounts — checking, savings and CDs, for example.
4. Open another account at the same bank
Banks often forgive checking account fees for “relationship” customers who have a savings account, money market account, certificate of deposit or a business checking account, in addition to a personal checking account.
A savings or money market account linked to your checking account can also rescue you from steep overdraft fees.
Plus, having multiple accounts with the bank may allow you to earn a higher, relationship APY.
Some banks waive monthly checking fees if you have a home mortgage with them and a linked checking account.
5. Take advantage of mobile banking
Many banks now offer mobile banking apps that allow customers to deposit checks, transfer funds and pay bills from their smartphones. This can make managing a checking account more convenient, and it can help you stay on top of your balance by sending you balance alerts, so you can maintain the balance needed to avoid a monthly fee.
There are also third-party personal finance apps that come with helpful digital tools to minimize costs. Intuit’s Mint, one of the most popular money management tools, helps checking customers avoid fees by sending alerts when bill payments are due or balances get low or if you go over-budget.
Many apps are free, but some are not, and costs may escalate if you sign up for premium features or services.
6. Meet the minimum debit card usage
Some institutions waive checking account fees if you use the bank-issued debit card linked to the account to make purchases or bill payments a certain number of times per month. Ten transactions is typical.
The bank gets paid transaction fees from the merchants in lieu of charging you a monthly service fee.
7. Ask for fee forgiveness
Credit card companies usually will forgive a late fee for customers who otherwise have excellent payment records. The same goes for checking account customers. If you are a responsible checking account holder who never overdraws the account, you likely will be forgiven for a rare mistake that triggers an overdraft fee. Try calling the bank’s customer service line or using its online chat service to inquire about getting a fee forgiven.
8. Teens and college students, take advantage of fee waivers
Some financial institutions offer fee-free checking accounts for teens and college students.
For example, Capital One’s Money teen checking account is an interest-bearing account for 8- to 18-year-olds that has no monthly fees and no minimum balance requirements and comes with a free debit card and a mobile app. It’s also a great tool to teach kids and teens the basics of handling money.
Chase Bank’s College Checking account levies no monthly fee for students who are 17 to 24 years old at account opening. Its High School Checking waives the monthly fee for students who are 13 to 17 years old at account opening. In addition, both accounts come with the Chase Mobile app and other features that help students monitor and manage their accounts.
You don’t have to settle for monthly checking account fees. With thousands of banks and credit unions, there’s a great variety of choices when it comes to where you bank, and many of those choices may have lower or more easily avoidable fees compared to your current account.
Before you open a checking account, look at the bank’s fee schedule. You might find it on the bank’s website, or you might have to call a bank representative to get the link or a copy. Compare the best checking accounts available to find one with lower fees that suits your needs.