The status of free checking has changed dramatically since the pre-recession days. Prior to 2010, free checking account offers were everywhere. Big Banks, community banks, and credit unions alike offered free checking accounts to everyone. It was necessary for financial institutions to offer free checking, because if they did not, another bank would get your business. While it is still possible to open a free checking account at a large number of banks around the country, the majority of banks have changed their terms and conditions. You can still open a free checking account, but most of them are condition based…meaning that you will have to meet certain criteria in order to be eligible to open a checking account without monthly maintenance fees.
Although a large number of banks are no longer offering free checking, community banks and credit unions still offer these types of checking accounts. This site was created in 2008, but it is just recently being moved to a WordPress platform. Some of the banks listed in the blog are no longer offering free checking, but some of them still are. Many of them have changed from no-strings free checking offers to removing your monthly account maintenance fees, if you are able to meet certain requirements. These requirements vary from bank to bank.
There are two ways to look at this occurrence. Some people can get upset and harken back to the old days when free checking was everywhere and become depressed at the thought of all of the fees that they are now being charged. Others will jump at the opportunity to have a checking account with a bank that gives them a chance to waive their checking account fees. I believe that the latter is the better way to deal with these changes.
While it is not the case with all banks, a majority have made it increasingly difficult for the average Joe to open a free checking account. What are some of the requirements in order to open and maintain a free checking account?
Here are some requirements that you may have to meet in order to qualify for free checking with your bank:
- Direct deposit
- Go paperless with eStatement
- Open your account with a higher opening deposit amount
- Maintain a higher daily account balance
- Maintain a higher average monthly account balance
- Have multiple linked accounts
- Use your debit card a minimum number of times per month
- Choose an online only checking account
If you have been banking with a certain institution for many years and you have never had any problems, getting free checking might be as simple as asking your bank. They know how tough it is to find a great customer, so they aren’t going to want to let one go. For instance, if your bank used to offer free checking and all of the sudden they want to start charging you a monthly fee, set up an appointment either by phone or in-person and ask them about waiving your monthly fee. You may be surprised at how cooperative they are. It might be as easy as them switching your account over to a different designation that allows you to bank for free.
If you are looking for a free checking account, you definitely can’t go wrong with a credit union. Bankrate.com conducted a survey in 2012 to see the percentage of banks that were still offering free checking. What they found will surprise you. It turns out that only 39% of banks were still offer free checking. That number was down from 45% in 2011. The number of banks offering free checking was expected to continue its decline. To put things in proper perspective, 76% of banks were offering free checking accounts in 2009.
The survey revealed that a large number of smaller banks and credit unions were still offering free checking. As a matter of fact, Bankrate.com noted that 72% of the largest credit unions were still offering free checking. If you are someone who hates paying fees on your checking account, you should look to your community banks and credit unions, because chances are that they are still offering free checking.
A credit union checking account is not just an alternative to bank checking accounts, but actually a very strong option. The fees charged by credit union checking accounts are generally more reasonable and in some cases nonexistent. They also have been known to pay higher interest rates on their savings accounts than banks. The National Credit Union Administration (NCUA) is the independent federal agency that regulates, charters and supervises federal credit unions. The NCUA has the backing of the full faith and credit of the U.S. Government, and operates and manages the National Credit Union Share Insurance Fund (NCUSIF), which insures the deposits of more than 95 million account holders in all of the federal credit unions, and the majority of state-chartered credit unions.
A few years back, there was a big push for the Move Your Money project. This was something that had a lot of momentum in the media and elsewhere. It basically presented us with the question of what would happen if everyone pulled their money out of big banks and placed them into small community banks or local credit union checking and savings accounts. It was a grass roots effort to get the larger banking institutions to show the regular people, Joe Average and Jane Average, a little respect by hitting them where it hurts…in the wallet. Although the momentum has slowed, the spirit still lives on.
The bottom line is that you have options. Do your research and don’t be afraid of changing banks if you aren’t getting the proper respect that you deserve, or are simply being charged too many fees. You are the boss of your money and you need to keep it that way.