Free Checking? Not So Fast!

Free Checking? Not So Fast!

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Several banks in my area have launched marketing campaigns touting their “free checking” accounts for new customers. Wooing new business is big free checkingbusiness and financial institutions are battling community banks, credit unions, and online institutions for consumer money.

Free checking isn’t always what they say it is, with various strings attached to force you to do banking their way. Let’s take a look at some of the schemes out there and what you should look for when reading the small print:

Free Checking For A Year — One of the better offers available, you can get free checking with a bank for the first year. In some cases you may have to keep a minimum amount of money in the account or deposit $100 to get the free checking. Not a bad option, but remember: come the thirteenth month you can expect to pay an average of $12 monthly for an account that is no longer free.

Free Checking With Savings — You can get free checking all right, but the bank also requires you to open up a savings account and keep at least $1000 in it at all times. They’ll pay you interest on your account, usually a paltry .5%, which is well below the 3% ING Direct pays its customers for savings. Still, you’ll only get $25 extra in interest by depositing your money with ING, but you’ll be able to save $144 in checking account fees with this deal.

Free Checking With Mortgage — If you already have a mortgage at a particular bank, you may be eligible for free checking there as well. This is a good deal if the mortgage rate you received is a good one, otherwise you might do better looking for a new mortgage which could save you hundreds even thousands of dollars annually.

Checking With Interest — This is one of the worst ways for consumers to keep their money in a bank. Usually, in exchange for free checking, you’ll be required to open up a “super checking” account and maintain it with at least $1500 at all times in order to avoid a monthly fee. You’ll also be given interest, usually a paltry .25-.30 % on the balance which is $3.75 interest for the year.

Hidden Fees and Then Some — With most any checking account, there can be numerous fees which are usually hidden. Sure, you may get a little booklet explaining what these fees are, but who reads them? Besides, they’re frequently updated making it difficult to track the changes. Hidden fees include: ATM fees for using your debit card at other banks, overdraft costs, a per check charge for writing out a check, online banking fees, transfer fees, canceled check return fee, and check printing charges.

Rarely does a bank offer absolutely no strings attached free checking. Some banks offer excellent plans for seniors while others offer free checking to everyone else as long as you have at least one other deposit account or loan that is open and active.

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