December 5, 2023

Bucks Blog: Free Checking Still Widespread at Credit Unions

Nearly three-quarters of the country’s largest credit unions still offer no-strings-attached free checking accounts, a new report from finds.

By comparison, fewer than half of banks — 39 percent — offer “stand-alone” free checking accounts, which are those that have no requirements, like direct deposit or minimum balances, to avoid fees, according to Bankrate’s report on bank checking accounts released last fall.

The latest findings come from a survey of the 50 largest credit unions, based on total deposits, from Jan. 15 to 28. Thirty-six of the 50 offered free checking. Half had no minimum opening deposit requirement, and none had a minimum opening deposit of more than $100.

The availability of free checking at credit unions has declined modestly since 2010, but has “plummeted” at banks, according to Bankrate. Free checking, in fact, “remains the rule, rather than the exception” at credit unions, Greg McBride, Bankrate’s senior financial analyst, said in a statement.

The average credit union A.T.M. surcharge — the fee a machine operator charges a noncustomer — climbed to $2.29, from $2.08 last year. (The average bank A.T.M. surcharge is $2.50.)

Surcharges are nearly universal among both banks and credit unions, with $2 and $3 the most common charges at credit unions and $3 the most common at banks, the report found.

A.T.M. surcharges are different from the fees an institution may charge its own customers for making a withdrawal at an out-of-network A.T.M. The most common out-of-network fees are $1 and $1.50 at credit unions, and $2 at banks.

Further, the average “nonsufficient funds” charge at credit unions is about $27 at credit unions, compared with $31 at banks.

Do you use a free checking account at a credit union?

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