The gap between expensive and affordable banking grew wider in the first half of 2014. But while you are deciding which side of the divide you’ll find yourself, make sure you take into account all of your banking needs.
A new survey of checking account fees provided by MoneyRates.com finds that average fees rose to new heights across a number of categories in the first six months of 2014. But the survey also indicates that free checking is still available to customers who choose their bank wisely and follow responsible banking habits.
Fees on checking accounts come in several forms, and MoneyRates.com’s semiannual survey measures changes in the most common types: monthly maintenance fees, overdraft fees, and ATM fees.
A few examples of how banking has become more expensive since the 2013 end-of-year survey:
- Average monthly maintenance fees have risen to over $13, which means the average customer is spending more $150 a year just to have a checking account.
- There are fewer free checking accounts available through banks. The percentage of banks that do offer free checking is 28%.
- Overdraft fees have risen to an average of $32.48 per transaction.
- The average minimum balance required to qualify for free checking rose from $724.69 to a whopping $5,440.
- The fees banks charge to their own customers for using an out-of-network ATM have risen to an average of $1.52 per transaction.
You can probably decrease the monthly fees from your bank by customizing your banking.
- Try banking online: It’s definitely more convenient, and over time you will find it cheaper.
- Look for special offers that apply to your situation: Examples would be special checking accounts for seniors or student accounts that come with no monthly fees.
- Opt out of overdraft protection: If you always spend within your available bank balance, then you probably don’t use overdraft protection, so you probably don’t need it.
- Choose a bank with convenient ATM locations: This will help you avoid surcharges for using out-of-network ATMs.
While the cost of banking has risen consistently over the past several years, there are ways you can make smart choices and develop responsible banking habits to keep your checking accounts at low cost.