Survey: When It Comes To Free Checking, Small Banks & Credit Unions Do The Best

There’s somewhat of a stark difference between big banks and their smaller counterparts and credit unions in the realm of free checking. Not having to pay for such an account is a big draw for consumers, and according to a new survey from the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, you’ll have much better luck finding gratis checking services at those small banks and credit unions.

According to the survey, via the Los Angeles Times, six out of 10 small banks and credit unions offer free checking, but only about 25% of big banks with more than $10 billion in deposits do the same.

It wasn’t easy getting that info from the banks, either — the U.S. PIRG said that fewer than half of the 250 bank branches it dropped in at in 17 states ponied up all the terms of their fees on first request. It’s a legal requirement that they do so under the Truth in Savings Act.

Even worse? Around 12% of those who refused on first request kept balking, said they didn’t have it or told the researchers to “go online.” If that’s how they treat researchers, how do they treat their customers?

When those researchers did just that, they found disclosure information was “often hard to find” online at the sites of 330 banks, about 62% of the time. In comparison, things got tricky at small banks just 29% of the time.

“The Truth in Savings Act is a simple law that helps consumers shop around,” said Ed Mierzwinski, the report’s author. “But compliance with it is poor, harming consumers who cannot learn the truth.”

While many big banks still offer free checking as long as the customer makes a regular direct deposit, the reports indicated they’re moving toward higher charges. But over at the small banks and credit unions, a majority offer totally free checking with no strings attached.

The lesson here, says U.S. PIRG: Go where you get the best treatment.

“Free checking is still there for consumers who look for it and there are lots of ways to avoid high bank fees,” said the report.

Sounds great, but as we’ve heard before — banks don’t quite make it so easy to take your business elsewhere. You can do it if you put your mind to it though, so don’t be scared to make the move.

Survey finds small banks, credit unions lead way in free checking [Los Angeles Times]