Updated at: 10/18/2012 5:36 PM
By JOSEPH PISANI
Quick. How much are you paying every month just to have a checking account?
And for ATM Fees?
If you’re not sure, it’s time to find out.
Checking account fees have soared over the past year as banks try to boost profits. Depending on your situation, it may be time to jump to another bank.
The average monthly service fee on checking accounts that don’t pay interest is now a record $5.48, a 25 percent increase over last year, according to Bankrate, a financial data publisher.
The fee for using an ATM outside a bank’s network rose to $2.50, a 4 percent increase.
Overdraft fees, which you’ll pay if there’s not enough money in your account to cover a check or debit card payment, rose to an average $31.26, up 1.4 percent.
If you’re paying hefty fees, you don’t necessarily have to switch banks, says Greg McBride, a senior financial analyst at Bankrate. Ask your bank if there is anything you can do to get your fees waived. Some banks will give you free checking if you set up direct deposits into the account or maintain a minimum balance in your accounts.
If that’s not possible, it might be time to explore other options.
DECIDE WHAT YOU WANT
You need to look for a bank that suits your specific needs. Sometimes that means sticking with a bank that charges a checking account fee.
"It’s not all dollars and cents," says Kevin Kautzmann, a certified financial planner at EBNY Financial in New York.
If you think you’ll need to sign up for multiple products, such as mortgage or a car loan, you have to decide if you want a bank that offers all those things or use multiple banks.
Bigger banks have more branches, making it more convenient if you prefer speaking to someone. But if want to get to know the people who work at your bank, a smaller one might be right for you.
Several websites enable users to search for checking account offers in their area. NerdWallet.com and Bankrate.com lay out the fees that could be charged and also lists any rules, such as direct deposits or minimum balances that you need to follow in order to qualify for free checking.
CONSIDER CREDIT UNIONS
"All my clients who switched to credit unions have nothing but good things to say about them," says Kautzmann. Most credit unions offer truly free checking accounts, meaning you won’t have to maintain a balance or sign up for direct deposits to avoid a monthly fee.
Credit unions cater to a specific group, such as employees of a certain company or residents of a specific neighborhood. "Most people qualify to join a credit union, you just have to find one you qualify for," says Bill Cheney, CEO of the Credit Union National Association. You can search for a credit union near you at www.ASmarterChoice.org or www.CULookup.com.
Credit unions also have more favorable interest rates on their savings accounts and loans. Interest on a savings account at a credit union averages 0.20 percent and 0.15 percent at regular banks, according to a report released by CUNA in March.
Credit Unions also have large ATM networks that are comparable to the big banks.
EXPLORE INTERNET BANKS
Online banks such as ING Direct and Ally Bank do not charge monthly maintenance fees. They also let you open an account with no minimum deposit.
ING Direct and Ally also pay interest on their checking accounts, which is hard to find at brick-and-mortar banks. ING Direct offers a 0.19 percent interest rate on balances under $50,000 in their checking accounts.
But Internet banks are not for everyone, especially if you value talking to someone face-to-face, like if you’re asking for a small business loan.
Joseph Pisani can be reached at http://twitter.com/josephpisani
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)