How to Avoid Checking Account Maintenance Fees

Most major banks charge you fees just to maintain a checking account every month.  These fees are advertised as “low,” but are generally in the $3-$12 per month range.  Let’s go right down the middle and say you pay $7/month.  That’s $84 a year.  It doesn’t sound like a ton of money, but when you consider you’re paying it to the bank just to hold your money, the ethics of the situation are maddening.

Want to avoid this assault on your hard-earned cash?  Try one of the options below.

Consider a Credit Union

Credit unions are a fantastic alternative to banks.  Seventy-two percent of their checking accounts come with no monthly maintenance fees, and their interest rates are dramatically more in favor of the consumer.  You can typically earn a much higher interest rate on your checking and savings accounts by using a credit union, and the interest that you pay on products such as loans, mortgages, and credit cards are usually lower.

Understand the Asterisks

Many banks will advertise that they have free checking accounts, but when  you read the fine print next to that asterisk at the bottom of the ad you’ll find that there are many conditions that must be met in order to have totally free checking.

The biggest conditions to look out for are minimum balance requirements (which mandate that you keep a certain amount in your account or you’ll be charged a fee,) direct deposit waivers (that allow you to avoid fees if you have a large enough paycheck set up to direct deposit to your account every payday,) and waivers for having a linked account with the same institution (such as a savings account or mortgage.)  If you don’t fall into any of those categories, know that your “free” checking account may not be so free.  You’ll still end up paying the monthly maintenance fee.

(Side note:  The average minimum balance requirement for the last half of 2014 was $5,708.76.)

Look at Other Banks

If neither of the above options work for you, look at other banks.  There are banks out there that charge no monthly maintenance fees with no asterisks.  You just probably won’t find them on a list of institutions holding the most assets.  Some of them will still have the asterisks, but the minimum balance requirement or the amount to qualify for a direct deposit waiver will be lower, allowing you to bank with them for free, anyways. Look at “smaller” banks, and you’ll be more likely to find something that’s a better fit.

It’s Your Money.  Hold Onto It.

Eighty-four dollars doesn’t sound like a lot.  But you worked hard for those $84.  If you’re making $40 per hour, you worked just over two hours last year for the privilege of banking at an institution that charges checking account maintenance fees, and that’s if they only charge $7/month.  The next time you go into work, for those first two hours really think about the fact that everything you’re doing is to make a banking institution richer, rather than yourself.  Then go do some shopping that will actually keep your money in your bank account, where it belongs.

Femme Frugality is a personal finance freelance writer.  You can read more of her work on her blog, or connect with her on TwitterPinterest, or G+.

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