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High Checking Fees Cause Consumers to Bail on Banks

Less than half of non-interest checking accounts are available to all customers for free . / Credit: Checking account image via Shutterstock

Consumers are getting increasingly restive about banks nickel-and-diming them by reining in free checking accounts and jacking up other checking fees, a new survey shows. And they're willing to show their dissatisfaction by moving their money.

Less than half (39 percent) of non-interest checking accounts are available to all customers for free, down from 45 percent last year and a peak of 76 percent in 2009, according to a survey conducted by Bankrate,  a publisher, aggregator and distributor of personal finance content.

Seventy-two percent of Americans say they would consider switching checking account providers if their financial institution raised its fees, up from 64 percent in March 2011. Higher-income households ($75,000 and up) are the most likely to switch, at 82 percent. This is of particular significance because they are the customers most cherished by financial institutions.

The surge in fees for check services is relentless, the survey found. The average monthly service fee on non-interest checking accounts is a record $5.48, up 25 percent from last year. To avoid the fee, the average balance requirement is now $723, up 23 percent from the previous record set last year.

It's even worse, if a consumer opts for an interest checking account. The average monthly service fee is a record $14.75, up 4 percent from last year, and it takes an average balance of $6,117 to avoid the fee.

"Checking accounts that are free on a standalone basis continue to diminish," said Greg McBride, Bankrate.com's senior financial analyst. "But a free checking account is still within reach of the majority of Americans, whether by getting the fee waived through direct deposit or moving to a bank or credit union that still offers free checking. And consumers that practice good financial habits should rarely — if ever — incur ATM and overdraft fees."

Reach BusinessNewsDaily senior writer Ned Smith at nsmith@techmedianetwork.com. Follow him on Twitter @nedbsmith.We're also on Facebook & Google+.

Ned Smith

Ned was senior writer at Sweeney Vesty, an international consulting firm, and was Vice President of communications for iQuest Analytics. Before that, he has been a web editor and managed the Internet and intranet sites for Citizens Communications. He began his journalism career as a police reporter with the Roanoke (Va.) Times, and was managing editor of American Way magazine and senior editor of Us. He was a Captain in the U.S. Air Force and has a masters in journalism from the University of Arizona.