8 ways to avoid monthly checking fees

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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, whether it’s depositing a paycheck, making a mortgage payment, or buying groceries and gas. But monthly maintenance fees, out-of-network ATM fees and other charges can take a bite out of your account balance. Thankfully, there are ways to avoid these costs.

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.

Find a bank that doesn’t charge monthly fees

A recent Bankrate survey found that the average U.S checking account customer has had their account for more than 14 years. Americans are loath to leave their banks, and understandably so. It’s a big deal to move direct deposits, 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.

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.

And some of the newest digital tools may appeal to you. For example, Chime, a fintech company, will spot you up to $200 for a debit card purchase or cash withdrawal without charging an overdraft fee, then it applies part of your next deposit to the negative balance.

Meet the 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.

Have two or more accounts with the 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.

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

Download a good financial app

There are plenty of apps available that can help you avoid checking account fees. 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 are free, but some are not, and costs may escalate if you sign up for premium features or services.

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.

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. You just have to ask.

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, no minimum balance requirements and it 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.

For parents who want to teach a young child money skills or want oversight over a college student’s spending, there are a number of institutions offering accounts that are not laden with fees. You just have to explore.

Bottom line

You don’t have to settle for monthly checking account fees. There are nearly 5,000 federally insured banks in the U.S. and about 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 that wasn’t conveniently located.

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 share the link or provide you a copy. Use Bankrate to find checking accounts and savings accounts.

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Written by
Libby Wells
Contributing writer
Libby Wells is a contributor covering banking and deposit products. She has more than 30 years’ experience as a writer and editor for newspapers, magazines and online publications.
Edited by
Wealth editor