MADISON, Wis. (10/9/13)--Checking fees at banks are at a record high, according to Bankrate's 2013 Checking Survey, further evidence that credit unions, with their emphasis on lower fees, remain the smarter choice for fee-conscious consumers.
ATM fees, overdraft fees and monthly maintenance fees were also at record highs, according to the survey. But after years of steep declines, the share of checking accounts considered free may be stabilizing, said Bankrate.
Between 2009 and 2012, free checking declined to 39% of checking accounts from 76%. This year, 38% of checking accounts offered by major banks are free, down 1 percentage point from last year's study.
The percentage of banks offering free checking also dropped in the first half of the year, according to the MoneyRates.com Bank Fees Survey (News Now Aug. 20). Less than 30.31% of banks surveyed had no monthly maintenance fee--the lowest percentage since 2009. That figure is a drop from 36.6% recorded at the end of 2012. In 2011, roughly 34.7% reported charging no fees--the lowest percentage until now.
Those who do pay monthly fees are paying more than ever, according to Bankrate's survey. The average fee on a checking account rose from $5.48 to $5.54 per month.
ATM fees also hit an all-time high said Bankrate. Banks now charge noncustomers an average of $2.60 to use their ATMs, up from $2.50 last year.
There's another way to avoid fees, said Karin Bonding, a lecturer in personal finance at the University of Virginia's McIntire School of Commerce. Shop around.
"You don't have to go to a bank, there are other options," Bonding said. Instead, she suggested checking out a credit union or online financial services provider.
According to Bankrate.com's 2013 Credit Union Checking Survey, released in March, 72% of America's 50 largest credit unions offer free checking (News Now March 21).