A recent Bankrate.com survey showed that roughly 72% of the nation’s largest credit unions offer free checking accounts without a minimum balance requirement. That compares with 45% of banks.
The percentage is down slightly from last year’s 76%.
Bankrate.com’s 2012 Credit Union Checking Survey also showed that 10% of credit unions surveyed will waive monthly fees if account holders maintain a minimum balance ranging from $100 to $750.
"Only 45% of banks offer checking without a minimum," said the study, adding, "and their minimum balance requirements tend to be much higher--$585 for noninterest bearing accounts and a staggering $5,587 for interest checking accounts."
"Overall, 98% of the credit union checking accounts that we surveyed are either free or can become free if the accountholder meets minimum balance, direct deposit and/or e-statement requirements," said Greg McBride, Bankrate.com senior financial analyst. "So credit unions remain a viable, consumer-friendly alternative for finding a free checking account."
Most (68%) credit union checking accounts in the survey do not pay interest, Bankrate noted. Those that do yield an average of 0.12%, down from 0.17% last year, which is consistent with the ongoing declines seen in cash investments, the publisher said.
Other fees noted in the survey:
Credit unions consistently charge less in overdraft fees for nonsufficient funds. The average cost of the first overdraft at credit unions is up slightly, to $26.65 from last year's $26.05, compared to $30.83 at banks. The most common fees assessed at credit unions are $25 and $30, compared to the most common fee of $35 at banks.
Thirty percent of credit unions surveyed have either no ATM fees outside the network or provide at least one free withdrawal per week before the fee kicks in. That compares to 29% at banks.
Ninety-six percent of credit unions will charge a non-member for using their ATM. This year's average surcharge is $2.08, down from $2.10 last year. At bank-owned ATMs, the average surcharge is $2.40. Credit unions' most common surcharge is $2, compared with $3 at banks.