Whatever happened to the free toaster?

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Decades ago, banks and savings-and-loan institutions gave away so many free toasters to new customers that these giveaways became an expected perk of a new bank account. Indeed, the free toaster was so closely associated with new bank accounts that it was downright proverbial.

But now, those free toasters — and the digital clock radios with which they shared the giveaway shelf — are so much a thing of the past that I’ve probably dated myself just by the mere mention of them. Freebies today aren’t entirely unheard of, but most new bank accounts are more likely to come with a complicated chart of complicated fees instead of a freebie.

And what’s next? Not only the end of free gifts, but also free checking accounts, as Bankrate reports in Sheyna Steiner’s story, “Have banks killed free checking?

So getting back to those toasters …

Carol Kaplan, a spokeswoman at the American Bankers Association in Washington, D.C., explains that some laws were passed that strictly limited giveaways by financial institutions.

“That’s why we don’t see that so much any more,” she says.

Anne Pace, a spokeswoman at Bank of America, has an alternative take on the end of the toaster. She says banks today are more focused on long-term customer relationships, instead of quick hits with customers who might not stick around after they take home the freebie.

“It’s not just come in, get a toaster, open an account and you are never going to hear from us again, but making sure that we are doing what’s right for you on an ongoing basis,” she says.

The loss of all those toasters (Cylon jokes, anyone?) is unfortunate, because who doesn’t love a good giveaway?

But the decision to open first, second, third or (ohmigod) fourth or fifth bank account shouldn’t be based on a freebie. Instead, banking customers should think through their need for another bank account and if the need isn’t great, don’t open one. More accounts mean more fees, more exposure to identity theft and more financial clutter. For most people, one or two should be enough, even if a free toaster is on offer.

Would you open a new bank account to get a giveaway?