According to a new Bankrate.com survey, 72 percent of the nation’s largest credit unions offer free checking accounts without minimum balance requirements, and that’s down from 76 percent last year.
The survey found that 45 percent of banks offer comparable free services.
The distinction between credit unions and banks came under intense scrutiny in the past year, when frustrated consumers vowed to move from big banks to smaller credit unions to protest fees.
“Overall, 98 percent of the credit union checking accounts that we surveyed are either free or can become free if the account holder meets minimum balance, direct deposit and/or e-statement requirements,” Greg McBride, Bankrate.com’s senior financial analyst, said in a prepared statement. “So credit unions remain a viable, consumer-friendly alternative for finding a free checking account.”
According to the Chicago Tribune and a MoneyRates.com study, “By nearly every measure, the fee environment has worsened since the end of 2011.”
The average minimum checking account balance to avoid a monthly fee from banks has increased. So have overdraft and ATM fees, according to the Chicago Tribune.
But locally, some banks waive fees for longtime customers or those who use electronic banking options.
And bank leaders said fees are needed to offset losses caused by federal regulations.
And, according to Bankrate.com, using a credit union doesn’t mean zero fees.
The average first overdraft fee at credit unions has increased from $26.05 last year to $26.65. It’s about $4 higher at banks, also according to the report.