NEW YORK – Free checking is alive and well–at credit unions, at least.

Bankrate.com on Monday released a study that found 72% of the nation’s 50 largest credit unions offer free checking accounts without a minimum balance requirement, compared to just 45% of banks.

While that 72% is down from 76% last year, an additional 10% of CUs in the survey will waive monthly fees if accountholders maintain a balance ranging from $100 to $750.

“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, senior financial analyst at Bankrate.com. “So credit unions remain a viable, consumer-friendly alternative for finding a free checking account.”

Among the other findings:

* Minimum balance requirements at banks tend to be much higher than at credit unions ($585 for noninterest-bearing accounts and $5,587 for interest checking accounts).
* The majority of the credit union checking accounts surveyed (68%) do not pay interest. 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 average cost of the first overdraft at the largest CU is $26.65, up from $26.05 last year, and compared to $30.83 at banks. The most common fees assessed are $25.00 and $30.00, compared to the most common fee of $35.00 at banks.
* 30% of the credit unions that Bankrate surveyed either have no ATM fees outside the network or provide at least one free withdrawal per week before the fee kicks in, compared to 29% of banks.
* 96% of credit unions surveyed will charge a non-member for using their ATM. The average ATM surcharge is $2.08, almost identical to $2.10 last year, versus $2.40 at bank-owned ATMs. The most common surcharge is $2.00, compared to $3.00 at banks.

 

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