Free checking is becoming harder to find especially at the large banks. This was one of the findings mentioned by this Bankrate checking survey:
Just 45 percent of noninterest checking accounts are free of maintenance charges, down from 65 percent in 2010. That number peaked at 76 percent two years ago.
The article mentions two regulations that have pushed banks into adding fees. In addition to the Durbin Amendment which caps debit card interchange fees, there's also the new overdraft rule that took effect in 2010. Based on that rule, banks are not allowed to charge consumers for overdrafts on ATM or one-time debit card transactions unless the consumer opts in for the overdraft service. In the September 2011 issue of Money Magazine, they had a graph showing the estimated revenue lost by 2013 from the various regulations. The regulation causing the largest revenue loss was this overdraft opt-in rule. The loss was $23 billion. The loss from the Durbin Amendment was estimated at $6 billion.
Another thing to note from the article is that banks are providing more ways to have the monthly fees waived. However, that doesn't mean it will become easier to avoid the fees. As we have seen at several of the large banks, it's becoming harder to avoid monthly fees.
Earlier this month Wells Fargo notified its California and Nevada customers of checking account changes that take effect November 14th. For some checking accounts, it will require larger balances to avoid monthly fees.
Bank of America and Citibank are also phasing in similar checking account changes which will make it harder for customers to avoid monthly fees.
Avoiding Checking Account Fees
If you find that your current checking account at one of these large banks will no longer be free, you may be able to change to another checking account that makes it easier for you to have the monthly fees waived. Another option is to change banks.
Several internet banks offer free interest checking accounts. In February I reviewed a few internet banks that offer paper checks. Many of these also offer ATM surcharge refunds.
If you want to have a local checking account, many credit unions offer free checking. As I described in my 2010 blog post Resources to Help You Support Your Local Credit Unions, many credit unions are part of a shared branch network and ATM networks that can make a small credit union as convenient as a large bank.
Reward checking accounts can also be a good option even for those who don't care about interest rates. The vast majority of reward checking accounts are free checking accounts with no monthly service charges even if the customer fails to meet the debit card purchase requirements. The debit card usage is only required if you want the high interest rate or if you want ATM fee refunds. Reward checking accounts are primarily offered by community banks and credit unions. Please refer to my post, 10 Common Traits of High-Yield Reward Checking Accounts, for more reward checking account details.