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Watch for sneaky new bank charges

Free checking accounts could be next casualty as banks seek to replace revenue lost to credit card and overdraft reforms.

By Teresa Mears Jan 4, 2010 3:18PM

For consumers, 2010 may be the year of sneaky bank fees, not just on credit cards but also on checking accounts.


The Wall Street Journal reports that banks will be bombarding customers with new fees this year as they try to replace the revenue they are losing from the new credit card law that goes into effect in February and restrictions on overdraft fees that take effect in July.


For some customers, that could mean the end of free checking accounts.


“Banks, just like airlines and local governments, need to fill the revenue gap,” Greg McBride, the senior analyst for, told Smart Money last year. “They’re looking to fee increases to do that.”

A 2008 study by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation reported that 75% of checking account holders paid nothing for the service. The other 25% paid minimum balance fees, overdraft fees and other service charges -- subsidizing free checking for everyone else, Consumer Affairs reported.


With banks’ ability to levy some of those charges restricted, expect banks to raise the threshold for free checking, increasing the number of customers who pay something, Consumer Affairs predicts.

Some banks already are experimenting with new types of checking account fees, the WSJ reports.


For example, the regional bank BBVA Compass is promoting a checking account called "Build to Order," which it introduced three years ago. Customers can choose from a variety of services, such as interest on checking, no minimum-balance requirements or free ATM use. The customers get two services for free, but pay $2 a month for each additional service. The bank is researching whether customers would be willing to pay more for better rewards programs or fraud alerts, the WSJ reported.


Starting in February, Citibank will charge its customers with Access or EZ checking accounts a $7.50 monthly fee unless they maintain a $1,500 balance. Previously, the fee was waived if customers set up direct deposit for paychecks or two automatic bill payments.


Fifth Third Bank last year unveiled a new Secure Checking Account, which costs $8 a month and includes identity theft alerts, discounts on a safety deposit box and a connected emergency fund savings account, SmartMoney reported.


We’ve already discovered how important it is to keep up with the fine print in credit card company mailings, as issues raise interest rates, add annual fees or close cards.


We also should keep up with the rules on our checking accounts to ensure that the practices that once earned us free checking (minimum balances, being over 50, direct deposit, online bill paying and, my personal favorite, never entering the bank) stay in effect. Free checking is still out there, for now, but you may have to search a little harder for it.


Have you noticed any changes in terms or additional fees on checking accounts?


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