7 ways to avoid monthly checking fees

4 min read
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It’s harder to conduct everyday financial transactions, like paying a bill, without a checking account. But many banks and credit unions charge you a monthly fee for having one. And that’s on top of other charges that banks typically levy, such as overdraft and ATM fees.

Thankfully, there are ways to get around checking account fees. Here is how you can avoid paying those charges.

1. Meet the minimum balance requirement

It’s all too easy to fork over 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 forgive those charges if you maintain a certain balance.

Chase Bank, for example, waives the $12 monthly fee on its Chase Total Checking account if you keep a balance of at least $1,500 or receive at least $500 in direct deposits per month.

Navy Federal Credit Union, for another, waives the $10 monthly fee on its interest-bearing Flagship Checking if you maintain a balance of $1,500.

Also, banks might waive monthly checking account fees if you maintain a certain aggregate balance across multiple accounts — checking, savings and CDs, for example.

2. Sign up for direct deposit

Another common way to skirt checking account fees is to have your paycheck, pension or Social Security benefit electronically deposited into your account. Banks usually require a minimum monthly amount in “qualifying” direct deposits, such as the ones just mentioned, to waive monthly checking fees.

Not all deposits qualify. Mobile or online payments to your account from your parents, for example, will not count toward the direct deposit minimum.

Regular electronic deposits from an employer, corporation, government entity or retirement benefits administrator are an easy way to bypass checking account fees.

3. Have two or more accounts with the bank

Banks often forgive checking account fees for customers who establish a broader relationship with them by having 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 save you from steep overdraft fees.

Some banks waive monthly checking fees if you have a home mortgage with them and a linked checking account.

4. 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 seems to be a common minimum.

The bank gets paid transaction fees from the merchants in lieu of charging you a monthly service fee.

5. Ask for fee forgiveness

Credit card companies usually will forgive a late fee for a customer who has an otherwise excellent payment record. The same goes for checking account customers. If you are a responsible checking account holder who never overdraws the account, you will likely be forgiven for a small mistake that triggers an overdraft fee. You simply have to ask.

If you frequently overdraw your checking account or disregard other terms of your account agreement, don’t expect the bank to do you any favors.

6. Download a good financial app

There are plenty of apps available that can help you avoid overdraft fees and other bank charges. Digital services such as Truebill, Harvest Platform and Trim help you minimize overdraft fees and will even try to get you a refund.

Intuit’s Mint, one of the most popular money management tools, helps checking customers avoid fees by sending alerts when bill payments are due, balances get low or if you go over-budget.

Many apps, like Mint, are free, but some do charge you and costs may escalate if you sign up for premium features or services.

7. Find a bank that doesn’t charge monthly fees

If you are not happy with your financial institution because of checking account fees or some other issue, it may be time to find another bank.

A recent Bankrate survey found that the average U.S checking account customer has had their account for more than 14 years. Americans are reluctant to quit their banks, and understandably so. It requires changing your direct deposit and automatic payments.

But switching banks isn’t as hard as it used to be, thanks to technology. Most banks’ websites answer most, if not all, of your questions regarding accounts. And you can fill out an application online rather than visit a branch.

What you’ll find is that online banks generally charge fewer fees. They can afford to do that because they’re not maintaining physical branches, whereas traditional banks with branch offices have more overhead.

Some of the newest digital options may also appeal to you. For example, Chime, a challenger bank, will even spot you the overdraft amount without charging you a fee, then apply part of your next deposit to the negative balance.

Bottom line

You don’t have to settle for monthly checking account fees. There are more than 5,000 federally insured banks in the United States and well over 5,000 federally insured credit unions. That’s a lot of choices. And the internet has bridged gaps that previously prevented customers from using a bank or credit union not near where they worked or lived.

Just think about what works for you and do a little homework. 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 choose to call a bank representative to share the link or provide you a copy. Use Bankrate to find checking accounts and savings accounts.

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