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Video: Free checking accounts dwindle

Greg McBride, CFA

Lucas intro: Bankrate.com is out with their annual look at checking account and ATM fees, and here with details is Greg McBride, senior financial analyst at Bankrate.com.

Greg, what did you find in terms of free checking accounts, balance requirements and monthly fees?

Greg: Lucas, the decline in free checking accounts continued for a third consecutive year, with just 39 percent of non-interest accounts being free regardless of balance or activity. This is down modestly from 45 percent last year, but has plunged since the peak of 76 percent was reached in 2009. Fees and balance requirements continue to march higher, hitting record highs on both interest and non-interest accounts.

Lucas: How about policies in place that can help consumers avoid those monthly service charges?

Greg: Here's a bit of good news. While free checking accounts are declining, fee waiver policies are becoming increasingly prevalent. On noninterest accounts, an additional 56 percent of accounts will waive the monthly fee, most commonly with direct deposit, which is a pretty low hurdle to clear. On interest-bearing accounts, 95 percent will waive the fee but predominantly require a significant balance threshold, either in the checking account or among other accounts.

Lucas: What did you see with ATM and overdraft fees? Continued increases?

Greg: We sure did. ATM fees in particular were up notably, setting new records. It's important to note that these fees can be avoided entirely by limiting your withdrawals to your own bank's ATMs. And overdraft fees did increase to another record high, but were up at the same 1.4 percent pace of inflation. Keep track of your balance through email or text alerts, as well as online and mobile access to avoid those overdraft fees.

Lucas Wrap-up: Thanks Greg. For more information on checking account and ATM fees, and to find the best account for your needs, just log onto Bankrate.com. I'm Lucas Wysocki.

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