On Wednesday TCF Bank announced that it has brought back its free checking account. Last year TCF Bank was one of the many large banks that stopped offering free checking accounts. The free checking account was replaced with a checking account that required minimum balances and/or certain activity to avoid monthly fees. The NYT Bucks blog quoted the bank's CEO as saying that the move back to free checking is intended to give the bank a "competitive advantage" that will attract checking customers.
Many large banks justified ending their free checking accounts last year due to the new debit card interchange fee regulation that took effect last October. Due to that regulation, the fees that large banks can charge merchants on debit card purchases are capped.
One interesting thing to note is that TCF Bank's parent sued the Federal Reserve in 2010 over the debit card fee caps. This lawsuit proved to be a waste of time.
I reviewed TCF Bank's new and old checking summary page, and I noticed that TCF Bank Free Checking has replaced TCF Bank's Convenience Checking. This Convenience Checking used to have a $9.95 monthly maintenance fee which could be waived with one of the following: 1) $500 in qualifying deposits, 2) 10 qualifying withdrawals in 30 days, or 3) $2,500 in minimum combined balances.
With several ways to have the monthly fee waived, most customers were probably able to avoid the fees. So that may be one reason for the reversal. Also, TCF Bank has added other ways to increase fee revenue. Last year they added a daily fee on overdrawn balances. They also ended their debit card rewards program.
TCF Bank has a long history of offering bonuses for new checking accounts. We may see fewer of these bonuses since the bank is hoping that the free checking account will be able to attract new customers.
With almost $18 billion in assets, TCF Bank is the 65th largest bank in the nation. The bank has over 430 branches in Minnesota, Illinois, Michigan, Colorado, Wisconsin, Indiana, Arizona and South Dakota.
Will Other Banks Bring Back Free Checking?
It will be interesting to see if other big banks will follow TCF Bank and bring back their free checking accounts. It has been reported that a large percentage of consumers are threatening to switch their primary financial institution sometime in 2012, and the main reason is fees.
Free Checking Options
You don't have to wait for your bank to bring back free checking. There are many banks that offer free checking today. In this blog post I reviewed several internet checking accounts and reward checking accounts that are not only free, but also pay interest and offer many perks.