There have been a few reports about the upcoming demise of free checking, most notably from the Wall Street Journal this week. Banks have always seen free checking accounts as a way to generate fee revenue, a strategy they’ve used with great success the last few years. With recent legislation limiting how much banks and credit cards can charge in fees, it’s no surprise some are predicting the end of free checking.
While I don’t think every bank will do away with free checking, I wouldn’t be surprised if many of them do. So what should you do if you bank decides to start charging fees for your free checking account? What should you do if they raise the minimum balance?
Find an alternative. My first vote is to find a local credit union. Credit unions work for the members, so their fees are usually already low and their checking accounts (called share draft accounts) are usually free. You should be able to find a credit union you qualify for on the basis of geography.
If you don’t want to open up another account and you already have an online savings account, consider opening their online checking account. Many online banks offer online checking accounts that have no minimum balance, no monthly fees, and offer some interest as well. Many also offer an high interest online savings account you can instantly transfer funds to and from.
For example, ING Direct’s Orange Checking account has no minimum balance and pays 0.25% APY on the first $49,999.99 deposited. Ally Bank has a $0 minimum balance and pays 0.50% APY on the first $15,000 deposited. Both banks offer much higher yields at higher balance tiers. There are plenty of free checking options out there.
If you bank decides they no longer want to offer free checking, don’t “go along” and pay their silly fees or increase your balance. Find a different bank.
Jim writes daily about money issues are Bargaineering.com.