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You Can Still Find Free Checking. Here's Where to Look

Doug Whiteman
You Can Still Find Free Checking. Here's Where to Look

You're paying a monthly fee for your checking account? That's so wrong. Free checking isn't as common as it used to be, but it's still around -- though you might have to do some digging.

It's worth the effort. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau says Americans pay $15 billion in checking fees every year. A checking account can come with as many as 50 different fees.

But they're often avoidable. Here's how to find free checking.

1. Look past the big guys

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The wrong checking account could cost you hundreds of dollars a year.

Choosing the wrong checking account can potentially cost you hundreds of dollars a year in fees.

Speed up your hunt for free checking by eliminating the big-name brick-and-mortar banks right out the gate. They tend to have monthly maintenance fees for checking.

Bank of America caused an uproar last year when it switched some checking customers over to new accounts charging a $12 monthly fee, unless they maintained a $1,500 balance or direct-deposited at least $250 a month.

2. 'Check' out credit unions

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Credit unions are a popular choice for free checking.

The easiest way to find free checking is to head to your nearest credit union. A 2018 Bankrate survey found that 82% of the nation's largest credit unions offer free checking, versus just 38% of banks.

Some credit unions and community banks offer rewards checking, which comes with higher interest rates and perks such as fee refunds when you use out-of-network ATMs.

Can't find a credit union nearby? Navy Federal Credit Union and Pentagon Federal Credit Union (PenFed) operate nationally, and most customers pay no or low fees. But you may need to meet eligibility requirements to join.

3. Look online

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Online checking typically comes without monthly maintenance fees.

Online checking accounts are another haven from fees.

Even some large, well-established banks offer free online checking, including Discover, Ally and Capital One.

Doing your banking online has few disadvantages, though it may not be a good choice if you like having the option of going to a bank branch for in-person help if you need it.

4. Consider your banking habits

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Choose a bank where you're unlikely to encounter ATM fees.

Do you have a bad knack for overdrawing your account? Do you like having a little bit of cash in your wallet, even if it means using an ATM that's not in your bank's network?

Finding the bank that’s the ideal match and is least likely to hit you with checking fees can take some work. You’re going to need to track your usage patterns meticulously.

Focus on banks where you can most easily avoid fees with your particular banking habits. Free checking is out there — you just have to go get it.

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