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Free Checking Gets Rarer as ATM Fees and Other Checking Account Fees Continue to Rise
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NEW YORK, Sept. 24, 2012 /PRNewswire/ -- The percentage of free checking accounts offered by U.S. banks continues to fall as other checking fees continue to rise, according to's (NYSE: RATE) 15th annual checking survey. Only 39% of non-interest checking accounts surveyed are available to all customers free of charge, down from 45% last year and the peak of 76% in 2009. The full survey is available here:

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Seventy-two percent of Americans say they would consider switching checking account providers if their financial institution raised its fees on checking accounts, up from 64% in March 2011. Higher-income households ($75,000 and up) are the most likely to switch, at 82%. This is especially important because these are the customers that are most desired by financial institutions.

"Checking accounts that are free on a standalone basis continue to diminish. But a free checking account is still within reach of the majority of Americans, whether by getting the fee waived through direct deposit or moving to a bank or credit union that still offers free checking," said Greg McBride, CFA,'s senior financial analyst. "And consumers that practice good financial habits should rarely – if ever – incur ATM and overdraft fees."

ATM Fees

  • The average ATM surcharge (the fee charged by an ATM operator to a non-customer) rose four percent to a new record of $2.50.
  • This is the eighth straight year that the average ATM surcharge increased.
  • For the first time, 100% of the banks that surveyed charge non-customers to use their ATMs.
  • Many banks also charge their own customers for using another company's ATM; this fee jumped 11% to $1.57.
  • For a customer encountering both fees, the average total of $4.07 is a new record and is up nearly seven percent from last year.

Monthly Service Fees

  • The average monthly service fee on non-interest checking accounts is a new record of $5.48, up 25% from last year.
  • The average balance requirement to avoid the fee is $723 – up 23% from the previous record that was set last year.
  • The average monthly service fee on interest checking accounts is a new record of $14.75, up four percent from last year.
  • Avoiding the fee requires an average balance of $6,117 – up nine percent from the previous record that was set last year.

More on Fee Waivers

  • On top of the 39% of non-interest checking accounts that are free on a standalone basis, an additional 56% will waive the monthly fee if the accountholder meets certain conditions; direct deposit remains the most common fee waiver.
  • Ninety-five percent of interest checking accounts are free if the accountholder meets certain conditions; interest checking accounts set the bar much higher than non-interest accounts and predominantly require a specific balance threshold either in the checking account or among other accounts.

Overdraft Fees

  • Also known as nonsufficient funds fees, these increased 1.4 percent from last year, in line with the Consumer Price Index, to a new high of $31.26.
  • For the fourth straight year, the most common overdraft fee is $35.

Debit Card Fees

  • Remain a rarity, with just four percent of checking accounts charging a transaction fee at the point of sale (these are only for PIN debit usage, not signature debit).
  • Fewer than one percent of checking accounts charge an annual debit card fee.

Highest Average ATM Surcharges*           

Lowest Average ATM Surcharges

1.         Denver                        $2.80         

1.      Minneapolis                 $2.20

T2.       New York Metro          $2.70             

2.      Cincinnati                    $2.22

T2.       Seattle                         $2.70          

3.      Chicago                       $2.25

T4.       San Francisco             $2.69           

4.      Milwaukee                   $2.35

T4.       Houston                       $2.69             

5.      Tampa                         $2.36

Highest Average Fees to Use Other ATM^    

Lowest Average Fees to Use Other ATM

1.         Philadelphia                 $1.96            

1.      Chicago                      $1.10

2.         Atlanta                        $1.95     

2.      Baltimore                    $1.12

3.         Miami                           $1.90           

3.      Los Angeles               $1.20

4.         Denver                        $1.88       

4.      Cincinnati                    $1.23  

5.         Detroit                         $1.86          

5.      Houston                      $1.35

Highest Average Nonsufficient Funds Fees

Lowest Average Nonsufficient Funds Fees

1.           Denver                      $33.60

1.        San Francisco           $28.35

2.           Houston                    $33.53

2.        Cleveland                   $28.74

3.           Atlanta                      $32.70

3.        Los Angeles              $29.05

4.           Miami                         $32.63

4.        Cincinnati                   $29.16

5.           Boston                      $32.47

5.        Chicago                     $30.10

*Charged by the ATM owner to a non-customer that uses the bank's ATM
^Charged by a customer's own bank for using an out-of-network ATM

Bankrate surveyed a total of 10 banks and thrifts in each of 25 large U.S. markets.  This included one interest and one non-interest account at 247 institutions that offer checking accounts. In total, 241 interest and 236 non-interest accounts were surveyed.

For the question about consumers switching checking account providers, Bankrate commissioned Princeton Survey Research Associates International to conduct a survey. The PSRAI September 2012 Omnibus Week 1 obtained telephone interviews with a nationally representative sample of 1,012 adults living in the continental United States. Telephone interviews were conducted by landline (604) and cell phone (408, including 189 without a landline phone). Interviews were done in English by Princeton Data Source from September 7-9, 2012. Statistical results are weighted to correct known demographic discrepancies. The margin of sampling error for the complete set of weighted data is plus or minus 3.7 percentage points.

About Bankrate, Inc.

Bankrate is a leading publisher, aggregator, and distributor of personal finance content on the Internet. Bankrate provides consumers with proprietary, fully researched, comprehensive, independent and objective personal finance editorial content across multiple vertical categories including mortgages, deposits, insurance, credit cards, and other categories, such as retirement, automobile loans, and taxes. The Bankrate network includes, our flagship website, and other owned and operated personal finance websites, including,,,,, Nationwide Card Services,,, InsureMe,,,, and Bankrate aggregates rate information from over 4,800 institutions on more than 300 financial products. With coverage of nearly 600 local markets in all 50 U.S. states, Bankrate generates over 172,000 distinct rate tables capturing on average over three million pieces of information daily. Bankrate develops and provides web services to over 80 co-branded websites with online partners, including some of the most trusted and frequently visited personal finance sites on the Internet such as Yahoo!, AOL, CNBC, and Bloomberg. In addition, Bankrate licenses editorial content to over 500 newspapers on a daily basis including The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, and The Boston Globe.

For more information:

Ted Rossman
Public Relations Manager
Bankrate, Inc.
(917) 368-8635

SOURCE Bankrate, Inc.

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