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About Ken Tumin

Ken Tumin founded the Bank Deals Blog in 2005 and has been passionately covering the best deposit deals ever since. He is frequently referenced by The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and other publications as a top expert, but he is first and foremost a fellow deal seeker and member of the wonderful community of savers that frequents DepositAccounts.

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First Clue That a Checking Account Isn't Free

With deposit rates so low, the last thing we need are account fees that eat away at our savings. If you prefer to stay with the megabanks, you'll have to pay special attention to ensure you don't get hit by new fees. Banks are blaming the new regulations as the reason more fees are being added.

Many of the large banks like to say they still have free checking. But how does one define free? A Wells Fargo spokesperson interviewed by the Clarion-Ledger gave her opinion about free:

"It's misleading in a way to say we don't have free checking anymore," she said. "There are lots of ways to get a free account."

Banks have to be careful about what they officially label as "free checking". According to the FDIC consumer news (from Summer 2010):

Under Federal Reserve Board rules, an institution can't advertise a "free" checking account if you could be charged a maintenance or activity fee (such as for going below a required minimum balance). But your bank can offer a free account and still impose charges for certain services, such as check printing, ATM use or overdrafts.

Thus, if you have to maintain a minimum balance or direct deposit to avoid a monthly fee, it cannot be advertised as a free checking account.

So the first clue that you may have to worry about monthly fees is if your bank changes the name of your checking account. An example is at Chase Bank. Former WaMu customers who had WaMu's free checking had been converted over to Chase Free Extra Checking. Recently, these customers were sent letters from Chase informing them that this account was being converted over to Chase Total Checking in February 2011. As you can see, there's no mention of "free" in the new checking account name. The reason is that it will require customers to either maintain a minimum balance or direct deposit to avoid a $10 to $12 monthly fee.

Some banks are grandfathering in free checking account customers, at least for now. Wachovia customers in states that were converted over to Wells Fargo had their free checking accounts preserved. However, new Wells Fargo customers will have to worry about monthly fees. The checking account that's closest to a free checking account is the Wells Fargo Value Checking. Note, there's no "free" in the name. To avoid a $5 monthly service fee, you'll need either a $1,500 minimum balance or direct deposit of at least $250.

Bank of America is smart enough to know it's best not to include "free" in their checking account names. It makes it easier to add fees in the future. That was the case with the MyAccess Checking Account. This used to be a free checking account when opened online. Now the monthly service fee is waived only if you maintain a $1,500 balance or maintain direct deposit. The new eBanking checking account is closest to a free checking account. It doesn't require a minimum balance or direct deposit. To avoid monthly fees you'll just have to stick with ATMs for all deposits and withdrawals and receive online statements. If you use a teller to make a deposit instead of an ATM, a monthly fee applies. Thus, it's officially still not a free checking account by the Fed's definition.

Some regional banks are also converting their free checking accounts. Readers have been notified by BB&T Bank that their free checking account will be converted into the BB&T Bright Banking account. Note the lack of "free" in the name. To avoid a $10 monthly fee, you'll need either a minimum balance or direct deposit.

Citizens Bank's Green Checking used to be a free checking. Now it requires a $1,500 minimum balance requirement or 5 qualifying transactions per month to avoid a $4.99 monthly fee.

Finding Free Checking Accounts

You can find free checking accounts at credit unions and community banks that offer reward checking accounts powered by BancVue. It's easy to forget that these reward checking accounts are free since they include monthly requirements like debit card usage and direct deposit. However, those requirements are only to qualify for high interest rates and ATM fee reimbursements. Even if you don't meet those requirements, the checking accounts are free. There's never a monthly service fee. However, not all reward checking accounts are free. There are some reward checking accounts that are not powered by BancVue that do have monthly fees. One example is MB Financial's MB Red Checking account. You have to maintain a $500 minimum balance to avoid a $10 monthly service fee.

Another option is an internet bank like Ally Bank, ING Direct and USAA Bank. Ally Bank not only has no monthly service fees, it offers free paper checks and reimburses all ATM surcharges.

Related Pages: checking account

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Anonymous   |     |   Comment #1
KeyBank still offers a completely Free checking.
salamanca   |     |   Comment #2
Excellent article. Very informative. Especially the Wells Fargo info.

Thanks Ken.
Anonymous   |     |   Comment #3
I just opened a checking account at USAA. Great customer service reps. I'm disappointed that they put a hold on the ACH transfer into the account. I've never had a bank "hold" funds with an ACH before. These are clear funds, no if's ands or buts!
Anonymous   |     |   Comment #4
Just opned a "free" checking account at Suntrust, they had a 50.00 bonus deal, so I opned it, all they wanted was a dollar in the account, no direct deposits either. I have to keep at least a dollar in it till Feb, when they will credit me with the 50 dollars.  Yeah I read all the fine print and talked to the manager before I did it. I may or may not close it after I get the 50 we'll see, as I won't need it anyway. I also have a checking at Wachovia (Wells) thats free its called a Crown checking (55 or over)
mrvirgo   |     |   Comment #5
Oh, oh. I have a BofA My Access checking; it was opened on line in 2007 and it's still free. I keep a very low balance (zero to less than 10 dollars) and have no direct deposit  with them. I am in California and over 65. How come I have not been charged? Any one know the answer? Am I just lucky?. Grin.
Greg   |     |   Comment #6
Chase wants direct deposit of min. $500 per month and is not grandfathering the old WAMU free accounts form Feb. 2011.
Anonymous   |     |   Comment #8
I got the letter. Chase can kiss my A$$. Dumping my account ASAP. Support your local banks and credit unions, NOT the megabandits.
Anonymous   |     |   Comment #9
Lots of free checking accounts at small banks and credit unions.  Some paying great interest and free ATM use.  I found a great account at 
rjm   |     |   Comment #10
I can confirm that Wells Fargo  has KEPT my Wachovia checking account FREE.  I only keep a penny in there except in the rare instance I need to transfer a large amount of money in.

That penny allows me to get change as needed, deposit checks if I get them and so forth.

Believe me, if they try to add fees, I will close the account.
Ms. Anonymous
Ms. Anonymous   |     |   Comment #11
I received my letter from Chase today.  Chase will be kissing my A$$ too come Monday morning.  I'm finding a new account right now via (Thanks, Anonymous #9).  I'll be starting the new year with a new FREE checking account and I'm waving Chase and any other "megabandit" bank bye bye.  Great article, Ken.  Thanks for the comments!
Jo   |     |   Comment #12
The megabanks have become so greedy, placing the blame on the new regulations, that they're going to be losing customers instead. To have to keep a minimum of $1500 in one's checking to avoid being fee'd to death sans earning interest, yet padding the bank's coffers is clearly indicative of out and out GREED.

I closed my accounts with BofA, Chase but kept my checking account I've had with US Bank since 2005 opened. The moment I hear so much as a whisper from them regarding fees, it's "Asta La Vista, Baby!"
Anonymous   |     |   Comment #13
Been a member with Charter One (aka Citizen's) for probably about 8 years. But once I got the letter, it was time to go. A little sad since I had been with them for so long and they were convenient with a branch in the grocery store I go to every week, but you do what you have to do. My main accounts have been online accounts for years anyways. Right now, it is Alliant CU.
Ms. Anonymous
Ms. Anonymous   |     |   Comment #14
So, after researching online my options for local free checking accounts and the Internet-only banks, I've opened an Interest Checking Account at, that's Ally Bank.  With Ally I won't have brick-and-mortar personal banking any more, but I don't write checks and will be able to mail my deposits (paper checks I received) in their pre-addressed, postage-paid envelope!  If all goes well, my money will be in the account around the same time Chase would have taken off their hold on what should be immediately available funds if you deposit with their crappy ATM machines that don't work half the time, even though they're brand new.  I'm switching all my electronic bill payments to my new Ally checking account, and will have them write the checks for me for those payees who don't accept electronic payments.  Ally still sends you free 50 paper checks and a free debit card.  When Chase starts whispering about charging for my business checking account, it's bye bye baby to that one too.  **** Chase.  They broke their promise about keeping WaMu's free checking accounts free.  Didn't take them that long either.
Anonymous   |     |   Comment #16
I found a bank I love - Comerica Bank - if you want a great bank with awesome service and friendly people I would suggest going there.  The banker was honest with me and this is the best bank to be at if you have direct deposit.  If you need a bank account and do not have direct deposit it may be wise to look elsewhere, without direct deposit the fee is $5 which is considerably lower than anywhere else I found.  You can look them up at the bank has been around for 161 years and they are very stable which was the most important factor to me.  I want an account with little or no fees, but I need to ensure the bank is safe.  It is not good to rely on just FDIC... FDIC could go broke with all of the failing banks.
Jo Comerica
Jo Comerica   |     |   Comment #24
Forget Comerica, fee hounds!
Anonymous   |     |   Comment #17
Anonymous   |     |   Comment #18
Im going to sue Chase for FRAUD under U.C.C. 4A101-4A=507. Anyone care to join a class action lawsuit against Chase? Prior AGREEMENTS between a customer of one business sold to another are enforcable in a court of law. A new business can't just come in and at their will and greedy will, CHANGE the terms of thousands, perhaps millions of prior existing agreements by a simple name change. The new business bought those agreements (as is), and unless, and until those customers give the new business PERMISSION to such changes, then those changes are NOT valid in law. Former WAMU customers did not walk into a Chase and sign up for THEIR new checking account name and agree to those terms and conditions, but they did with WAMU. When a customer says NO! I DO NOT AGREE, and the business ignores that customer and existing prior agreement, then LAWSUIT! Anyone care to join a Class Action Lawsuit against Chase?
Anonymous   |     |   Comment #19
That would seem true, but when a bankers lawyer with unlimited funds comes in to (lie) ahem, I mean argue the case, the judge with his/her political activism will most certainly agree that the new owner has the RIGHT to change the terms of any prior or existing agreement, even without the customers or consumers permission. We are all taught that when you make a deal with another then you must keep your word. I feel that since WAMU was bought by Chase, then Chase should honor those WAMU customer agreements who have FREE CHECKING, and any NEW customer that opens a checking account with Chase should be bound by the term agreement of that new account. It appears that Chase didn't simply just create a new checking account with a different NAME, but disregarded all prior WAMU customers free checking account agreements, and CLOSED all prior WAMU customers accounts (with the new account name change) and are now forcing them to either keep a certain amount of cash in their account so Chase can collect and keep the interest on all that extra money and make loans (after all 2 million customers required to keep a minimum of $1500 how much per month to make money off you) or cough up $10 a month in a service fee or go somehwere else.  CROOKS!
Klaus   |     |   Comment #20
Was a lawsuit ever filed against Chase? I finally realized that I have been paying $12 per month since March of 2011. Closed my account after paying $192 for nothing. I am sure that there must be thousands of people like me ... nice little income for Chase. I'd love to join a lawsuit.

Anonymous   |     |   Comment #21
I have had a free checking with Chase for years but one has to have a certain amount with them in CDs, IRAs, or direct deposits.  I have never received any letter from them stating there would be any charges.  If they tried to charge me, I would take everything and transfer it to a bank where I can be making more money for keeping account with them. 
Anonymous   |     |   Comment #22
Comerica put a statement on my electronic direct deposit statement informing me that as of Oct. 1, 2013 they will be charging 10 for check charging fee for every check over 100 dollars.  As I get paid per week, that will add up to 520 dollars a year.  This is way worse than just having to deposit 500 or more a month for me, since I can hit that mark in two checks.  But this is a pay check, so it's my employer who have to figure out what to do.  Any ideas how to avoid this fee on my end?
Anonymous   |     |   Comment #23
TO ANON #22,

Change to a bank or credit union that does not charge the fee.

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