Bankrate.com has published results from a new study of bank fees showing that the costs of checking accounts have risen again this year to an all-time high. Bankrate's 2009 Checking Study details the average fees associated with using and maintaining an interest bearing account, including bounced check fees, ATM surcharges, and monthly services fees, plus tips on how to avoid them.
Bankrate's survey of leading banks yielded the following data:
- Bounced check fees, also called NSF fees by banks, increased 2.1 percent from last year to another record high of $29.58. Bounced check fees have grown incrementally but consistently over the past decade, rising 2.7 percent annually on average;
- Tiered structure fees for overdrafts are becoming more popular with 26 percent of banks now charging higher fees after the 2nd overdraft during a rolling 12-month period. The average cost for the 2nd through 4th overdrafts under the tiered fee structure is $33.88 while the average cost for banks that have a third tier, which typically kicks in after the 5th overdraft, came in at $36.19;
- ATM surcharges rose 12.6 percent from last year to an average of $2.22. Banks increasing the fee outnumbered those reducing the fee by more than a 7-to-1 ratio. ATM surcharges have increased at a 7 percent annual clip over the past decade;
- With interest bearing accounts, monthly service fees hit a new high at an average of $12.55, up nearly 5 percent from last year; For non-interest bearing accounts, monthly service fees hit a new low with an average of $1.77. Additionally, 76 percent of non-interest accounts now qualify as no fee, no minimum balance accounts, up from 73 percent last year.
"Even with government scrutiny of some bank fee policies, consumers need to take steps to avoid fees," said Bankrate senior financial analyst Greg McBride. "Note any fees and balance requirements of your account, request a link between your checking and savings accounts, and keep track of the available account balance so that your money stays your own."
Bankrate.com surveyed one interest checking account and one non-interest checking account at of the five largest banks and the five largest thrifts in 25 large U.S. markets to find the latest trends on checking account and ATM fees. There were 245 interest accounts and 228 non-interest accounts surveyed at 248 banks and thrifts. In addition, 16 interest and 5 non-interest accounts were surveyed from a sampling of 17 online banks. Surveys were conducted during the month of August 2009.