Spring 2011 – Special Edition: Shop and Save…at the Bank
Checking Accounts: How to Keep the Costs Down
With new laws and a challenging economy limiting banks' revenue, institutions are raising fees and reassessing features on services, including checking accounts. That's why it's especially important to think about how you expect to use a checking account and then comparison shop for the right combination of convenience, costs and services.
Some banks, for example, are doing away with "free" checking accounts and now charge monthly maintenance fees. However, they may waive fees if you meet specific requirements, such as keeping a minimum balance in the account at all times, using direct deposit, or doing all of your banking online.
"Ask how the maintenance fee can be waived for the checking account you're interested in, and be sure you know all of the rules and requirements," said Heather St. Germain, an FDIC Consumer Affairs Specialist. "And don't hesitate to check with several banks to compare fees and waiver requirements."
Some banks also are increasing ATM fees. "You can minimize or avoid fees by looking for a bank that offers ATMs that are conveniently located — close to your work, home or school," said Debi Hodes, also an FDIC Consumer Affairs Specialist. "You can also find banks that allow you to use other banks' ATMs for free or a minimal fee."
In addition, be cautious when choosing a checking account that offers a debit card rewards program. The benefits of these programs may not be worth it if you're paying maintenance fees or other costs, and the bank can decide to end the program at any time. Also carefully consider the costs for overdraft programs and your options for avoiding high fees (see Overdraft Programs: Consider Your Lower-Cost Alternatives).
Finally, remember that under the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform law, certain checking accounts that pay no interest will benefit from full deposit insurance coverage — regardless of the dollar amount — during the two years from December 31, 2010, through December 31, 2012.
Also under that law, banks will be permitted to pay interest on all types of checking accounts for the first time, starting July 21, 2011. This change is important because it could reduce the amount of FDIC insurance coverage for depositors who currently receive unlimited protection for their non–interest bearing checking accounts but who voluntarily switch to a new checking account that pays interest. They would be eligible for the basic FDIC insurance amount of up to $250,000 per depositor, not unlimited coverage.
What if your bank decides to convert its non-interest bearing checking accounts to interest-paying accounts? "FDIC rules require that the bank notify you that your account will no longer have the temporary unlimited deposit insurance coverage through December 31, 2012, but instead will be insured up to the basic $250,000 limit," noted Martin Becker, an FDIC Senior Deposit Insurance Specialist.
For help or information regarding the temporary, unlimited insurance program and FDIC insurance coverage in general, call the FDIC toll-free at 1-877 ASK-FDIC (1-877-275-3342) or visit www.fdic.gov/deposit/deposits.