Free and Almost-Free Checking Options

Sep 19, 2011 3:07pm

Citibank announced it is repackaging its checking options for consumers, raising its monthly checking account fee to $10 from $8, unless you have a minimum of $1,500 or monthly online billing and a direct deposit.

The bank will notify customers at the end of the month and it will be effective for all clients in December.

According to research firm Moebs Services, almost two-thirds of big banks have eliminated free checking since the end of 2009, adding fees or changing terms of about 4 million consumer deposit accounts, reported the American Banker.

Bentley Rubinstein, Business Development Manager at Mint.com, said there are at least four things to consider when choosing a checking account.

1. Account maintenance fees: Make sure to check to see if the account charges a monthly maintenance fee or a fee when your balance falls below a certain threshold.

2. Be aware of the checking account’s ATM fee policies. There are often two fees charged for ATM transactions: one by your bank and one by the ATM machine. Look for an account that doesn’t charge you an ATM fee and then reimburses the one charged by the ATM.

3. Earning interest. While this is now a rarity, you might look for a checking account that bears interest. Typically you’ll find this with “internet” checking accounts that don’t have significant physical presences in terms of ATMs and branches.

4.  Smaller banks/credit Unions: Some people may still want the ability to walk into their local branch any time. For them, it may be best to look at smaller banks or credit unions in the area that don’t charge account maintenance fees and offer ATM fee reimbursements.

Rubinstein said Ally Bank & Schwab Bank both offer “internet” checking accounts that earn interest, don’t charge ATM fees, and reimburse ATM fees charged by other banks’ ATMs. Schwab reimburses ATM fees assessed by banks overseas when traveling abroad. ING Direct offers an “internet” checking account that earns interest and has a network of over 35,000 ATMs where customers can withdraw money without a fee.

 

Here are what some national banks offer:

 

1.       Citi:

For its Basic Checking package, Citibank offers three options.

-          Clients pay no monthly service fee if they make one direct deposit and one online bill payment during each monthly statement period.

-          Clients can also avoid a monthly service fee by maintaining $1,500 in combined average monthly balances in their Basic Checking and linked Basic Savings accounts

-          Clients can choose to pay a flat $10 monthly service fee for the Basic Banking package, which the bank says includes more standard features and services than competitor offerings.

For its full-service and premium checking packages, customers can either choose to maintain “a minimum relationship balance level that recognizes all their savings, borrowing, and investing activities,” or they can pay a “competitive monthly service fee.”

With all the options, Citibank does not charge additional fees for debit card usage or online bill payments.

Citibank said it made “the hard decision” to stop giving reward points for debit card transactions, it is keeping its ThankYou banking relationship rewards program, and will increase the maximum rewards earning opportunity for all clients.

 2.      Chase:

A spokesman for Chase said the bank offers customers in most markets several choices of checking accounts and ways to avoid a monthly fee in all of them.

For example, Chase Total Checking customers can avoid the monthly fee by having at least $500 in direct deposits each month, keeping a minimum of $1,500 in the checking account, or keeping a minimum of $5,000 combined in all deposit and investment accounts at Chase.

 

3.      Bank of America:

-          Bank of America’s e-Banking, for consumers who prefer to bank on the go, has no monthly service charge and no minimum balance requirement when customers choose online paperless statements and make deposits and withdrawals online or at the ATM.

-          MyAccess checking customers can avoid the fee with a $250 monthly direct deposit.

 

4.      Wells Fargo:

- Wells Fargo offers Value Checking which has a $5 monthly service fee that can be waived by maintaining an average daily balance or direct deposit. There can be a minimum opening deposit of $100.

- College students can open a CollegeCombo account which has a minimum opening deposit of $125.

 

Rubinstein said you can use Mint.com’s Ways to Save feature to find a checking account for each individual based on spending patterns.

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