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Free checking at 72 of large CUs 45 of banks
NEW YORK (8/14/12)--Chalk up another one for credit unions in the fees arena. Roughly 72% of America's 50 largest credit unions offer free checking accounts without a minimum balance requirement, according to Bankrate.com's 2012 Credit Union Checking Survey. That compares with 45% of banks.

The 72% is down slightly, from 76% last year. An additional 10% of credit unions surveyed will waive monthly fees if account holders maintain a minimum balance ranging from $100 to $750, noted the survey, which was released Monday. Bankrate is a publisher, aggregator and distributor of personal finance content on the Internet.

"Only 45% of banks offer checking without a minimum," said the study, adding, "and their minimum balance requirements tend to be much higher--$585 for noninterest bearing accounts and a staggering $5,587 for interest checking accounts."

"Overall, 98% of the credit union checking accounts that we surveyed are either free or can become free if the accountholder meets minimum balance, direct deposit and/or e-statement requirements," said Greg McBride, Bankrate.com senior financial analyst. "So credit unions remain a viable, consumer-friendly alternative for finding a free checking account."

Most (68%) credit union checking accounts in the survey do not pay interest, Bankrate noted. Those that do yield an average of 0.12%, down from 0.17% last year, which is consistent with the ongoing declines seen in cash investments, the publisher said.

Other fees noted in the survey:

  • Credit unions consistently charge less in overdraft fees for nonsufficient funds. The average cost of the first overdraft at credit unions is up slightly, to $26.65 from last year's $26.05, compared to $30.83 at banks. The most common fees assessed at credit unions are $25 and $30, compared to the most common fee of $35 at banks.
  • Thirty percent of credit unions surveyed have either no ATM fees outside the network or provide at least one free withdrawal per week before the fee kicks in. That compares to 29% at banks.
  • Ninety-six percent of credit unions will charge a non-member for using their ATM. This year's average surcharge is $2.08, down from $2.10 last year. At bank-owned ATMs, the average surcharge is $2.40.  Credit unions' most common surcharge is $2, compared with $3 at banks.
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