Free Checking Accounts Are Coming Back To Big Banks

Photo: Flickr / Knile

Banks may finally be answering customers’ prayers.In the second half of 2011, the number of checking accounts without a monthly maintenance fee increased to 39 per cent, up from 35 per cent earlier in the year, according to the latest Bank Fees survey by

Overall maintenance fees have dropped, too.

Checking accounts that still maintained their fees charged customers an average of $11.28 per month, down from $11.75.

The minimum balances also dropped significantly. The average balanced needed to avoid fees is $391.41, compared to the $517.41 at the end of the year. 

This is great news for consumers, who towards the end of 2011 ditched their banks en masse. A report by Javelin Strategy & Research estimated 5.6 million big bank customers switched banks during the end of the year.

More than a quarter of consumers cited bank fees as their reason for leaving.

The only downside? The average for overdraft and ATM fees has increased. 

But as senior financial analyst Richard Barrington recently said, those fees are easy enough for people to avoid. 

“Unlike monthly maintenance fees, overdraft fees and ATM fees are charges you can avoid with sensible banking behaviour,” Barrington says. “Opt out of overdraft protection – you’ll not only avoid these fees, but you will probably develop better banking habits.”

And it seems consumers are already ahead of the curve.

Last year, the number of overdrafts per household dropped by 18 per cent, dragging down banks’ overdraft profit from $33.1 billion in 2010 to $29.5 billion in 2011, according to Moebs $ervices.

Now see the 10 biggest banking trends to expect in 2012 >

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