Not all free checking accounts are free. Many come laden with fees that surprise consumers who don’t carefully read the fine print. FreeMoneyFinance snagged an except from the book Banking Secrets Revealed that lists many of the charges to ask about before opening an ostensibly free account:
Is the account “free” for the life of the account or is it just a short-term promotion? Are there minimum usage requirements? Do you need to write a minimum number of checks each month? Will your account be converted to a more traditional, fee-based, checking account if it’s not used in a specified period of time? Are there any kind of monthly fees associated with the account? Do you need to pay for your new checks? What does a box of new checks cost? Are there fees for doing your banking business in person or over the telephone? Some banks charge for in-person visits on certain kinds of accounts. Do you need to have direct deposit of your paycheck set up to take advantage of the “free” checking? Does the bank offer “courtesy” overdraft protection to cover your bounced checks automatically and then charge you for it? This is just a cover for a high-priced overdraft loan. Are there fees to use the bank’s debit card? Is there a different treatment of debit transactions with a signature versus those using a PIN number? Does the bank pay interest on the funds deposited in their “free” checking account?
Not included on the list, and arguably more important, are questions about ATM locations and usage fees. What good is a free account if you can’t freely access your money?