5 Ways To Avoid Paying Fees For A Free Checking Account

By Matthew Cenzon. May 7th 2016

There was a time where practically anyone could open a free checking account for nothing more than a small, opening deposit. However, the phrase "free checking account" has taken on a whole new meaning since its inception.  To maintain a free checking account, many banks have implemented certain conditions or requirements that customers must follow to avoid being charged monthly service fees. Special fees have also been added to certain services that were, at one time, considered free for those with a free checking account. Here is a list of 5 ways to maintain an absolutely free checking account.

1. Maintaining a Minimum Account Balance

Gone are the days where you didn't have to worry about a minimum account balance, and if you did, it was very small to begin with. In fact, it was usually smaller than the amount needed to open the free checking account in the first place. Now, banks have started enforcing balance requirements that must be maintained in order to avoid a monthly service charge. So, if you don't want your bank to charge you for your free checking account, make sure you understand the rules before you withdraw any funds, write any checks, use your debit card or make online payments. If you maintain the minimum required balance, your free checking account will remain free.

2. Sign Up For Direct Deposit

While a minimum account balance is one way to waive the service charge that banks have implemented on free checking accounts, it's not always a feasible one. Many people live from paycheck to paycheck, and to maintain a minimum account balance, which tend to be high for free checking accounts, would be nearly impossible. Fortunately, many banks will also accept direct deposit payments in lieu of a minimum account balance to waive a monthly service fee for a free checking account. Typically, the required total amount for direct deposit checks submitted from your employer is lower than the minimum account balance. This means that those who live from paycheck to paycheck need not worry about keeping a certain amount of money in their free checking account to waive monthly service fees.

3. Avoid Penalty Fees

Overdraft, non-sufficient funds, and extended overdraft are just a few examples of how some banks can charge you a lot of money on your free checking account. These fees can really add up, especially when a bank penalizes you for every transaction that can incur one of these fees. While it may appear that these fees are somewhat sneaky and even unfair, they do promote better money-management on your part. There are also programs, like overdraft protection, to help you avoid these fees in times of emergency.

4. Stop Using Your Debit Card

Many banks have started implementing fees for debit card use, which has created a backlash from customers who will no longer enjoy the benefits of free checking even though they have met other conditions to waive monthly service fees. As a countermeasure, you can start paying cash or writing checks to avoid the debit card fee. Another alternative is to start using a credit card. While many are afraid of using credit cards to avoid falling into debt, a credit card linked to their checking account, plus good money management can help them prevent a whopping credit card bill at the end of the month.

5. Join A Credit Union Or A Smaller Bank

If you are fed up with any new charges your bank has imposed on your free checking account, start shopping around for another bank. Many local banks are still offering totally free checking, with promotions that even promise potential customers free checking for life. Credit unions are also another good place to find free checking accounts, some of which even still offer rewards for use of your debit card.

One of the drawbacks of using a credit union or a smaller bank is accessibility. No one can argue the convenience of having your bank or ATM on every street corner, or inside every mall or supermarket. However, some credit unions have formed networks amongst themselves to offer no-surcharge ATMs. You can also withdraw cash using the cashback feature of your debit card. This is a great way to get easily accessible cash in case you're having trouble finding an ATM for your bank or credit union.

Bottom Line

More and more banks are imposing fees that are making free checking accounts almost non-existent. However, there are ways around these service fees, if you're willing to agree to the terms and conditions applied. Plus, you have the option of looking at smaller banks and credit unions that offer free checking services that don't make you jump through any hoops.

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