Bankrate: Decline of Free Checking Accelerates

Consumers Facing Higher Fees and Balance Requirements, But Increasing Amount of Fee Waivers Provides Silver Lining

Sep 26, 2011, 08:00 ET from Bankrate, Inc.

NEW YORK, Sept. 26, 2011 /PRNewswire/ -- Only 45% of non-interest checking accounts are free, down from 65% in 2010 and the peak of 76% just two years ago, according to Bankrate.com's (NYSE: RATE) 2011 Checking Study. The full study is available here: http://www.bankrate.com/finance/checking/checking-account.aspx.

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"The decline of free checking is in full swing, however, savvy consumers can take advantage of an increasing amount of fee waivers, most commonly with direct deposit," said Bankrate's senior financial analyst, Greg McBride, CFA. "Ninety-two percent of noninterest accounts are either free or can become free."

Both interest and noninterest checking accounts posted big increases in monthly service fees and the balances required to avoid them. On interest accounts, the average monthly fee is $14.15, up 8.5% from $13.04 last year. The balance required to avoid the fee jumped 43.9%, to $5,587 from $3,883, though these balances are increasingly permitted to be held in other accounts and not strictly in the checking account.

On noninterest accounts, the sharp decline in free accounts means 60% more accounts now carry fees and balance requirements. The average monthly fee is $4.37, up from $2.49 last year, and the balance required to avoid it is $585, more than double the $249 from one year ago.

Debit card fees are still rare, despite recently publicized cases. Only 4% of accounts charge a point-of-sale fee when using a debit card, and less than 2% charge a monthly or annual fee for carrying a debit card.

The average ATM surcharge hit a new high for the seventh consecutive year, at $2.40, up 3% from $2.33 last year. The average fee charged by one's own financial institution for going outside the network is unchanged from last year at $1.41.

The average nonsufficient funds fee (commonly known as an overdraft or bounced check fee) set another record of $30.83, up 1% from $30.47 last year. This keeps intact a streak of increases dating back to Bankrate's first annual survey in 1998.

Highest ATM Fees

Lowest ATM Fees

1.   Denver

$2.75

1.   Cleveland

$2.06

2.   San Diego

$2.70

2.   Minneapolis

$2.15

3.   Houston

$2.69

3.   Tampa

$2.19

4.   Seattle

$2.63

4.   Chicago

$2.20

5.   New York Metro

$2.60

5.   Cincinnati

$2.22

Highest Nonsufficient Funds Fees

Lowest Nonsufficient Funds Fees

1.   Denver

$33.50

1.   San Francisco

$27.59

2.   Miami

$33.05

2.   Chicago

$28.80

3.   Houston

$33.03

3.   Cincinnati

$28.84

4.   Dallas

$32.44

T4. Los Angeles

$28.89

5.   Philadelphia

$32.40

T4. Minneapolis

$28.89

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, 243 interest and 238 non-interest accounts were surveyed.

About Bankrate, Inc.

The Bankrate network of companies includes Bankrate.com, Interest.com, Mortgage-calc.com, Nationwide Card Services, InsureMe, CreditCardGuide.com, Bankaholic, CreditCards.com and NetQuote. Each of these businesses helps consumers to make informed decisions about their personal finance matters. The company's flagship brand, Bankrate.com is a destination site of personal finance channels, including banking, investing, taxes, debt management and college finance. Bankrate.com is the leading aggregator of rates and other information on more than 300 financial products, including mortgages, credit cards, new and used auto loans, money market accounts and CDs, checking and ATM fees, home equity loans and online banking fees. Bankrate.com reviews more than 4,800 financial institutions in 575 markets in 50 states. Bankrate.com provides financial applications and information to a network of more than 75 partners, including Yahoo! (Nasdaq: YHOO), America Online (NYSE: AOL), The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times (NYSE: NYT). Bankrate.com's information is also distributed through more than 500 newspapers.

Ted Rossman
Public Relations Manager
Bankrate, Inc.
ted.rossman@bankrate.com
(917) 368-8635

SOURCE Bankrate, Inc.



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