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Is a Free Checking Account Really Free?

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You may be intrigued by all the free checking accounts you see advertised. No one likes to pay fees, especially when accessing your own money. Those fees can eat away at your budget. Therefore, free must be good, right? Yes, but free checking is not always completely free. You just need to know what to look for.

free checking

What is a free checking account?

Your checking account is what you use on a regular, if not daily, basis to manage your money. You can sign up for a federally insured checking account at any financial institution insured through the FDIC or NCUA. Some of these accounts are advertised as “free”, which means the account has zero fees.

A free checking account is a basic checking account that doesn’t charge any recurring fees. However, just because it doesn’t charge a monthly maintenance fee, a free account doesn’t mean that everything is free. Sometimes there are out-of-network ATM charges, overdraft fees, foreign transaction fees and other charges or penalties. In some cases, there may also be a minimum balance requirement.

Financial institutions may only waive these fees if you maintain a certain balance in your account, such as $2,000. This shows the bank or credit union that you are not in danger of over-drafting your account.

It’s always important to read the fine print. For instance, even though the account might be promoted as free, if you dip below the minimum balance requirement, you could be charged a fee.

Over the years, many financial institutions have moved away from free checking accounts. Over half (52%) of all checking accounts are not free, according to a 2021 Bankrate survey. However, many credit unions still offer free checking accounts.

Let’s look at how to choose the right free checking for your needs.

How to choose a checking account

Not every checking account is suited to every customer, free or not. When you’re considering where to open a checking account, keep your needs in mind. Understand the basics of checking accounts. For example, some checking accounts earn dividends and many have great online and mobile features. You want to ensure there are also no surprise fees, such as monthly maintenance fees or ATM charges. Additionally, find out how much you’re required to deposit when opening an account.

Use the following checklist to help you choose a checking account that is truly free:

  • Are there fees to open the account?
  • Are there monthly account fees?
  • Is there a minimum account balance?
  • Is direct deposit required?
  • Is there a minimum number of transactions?
  • Are there ATM fees?

No Strings Checking

Through our research at Ent, we have identified what people want out of a checking account and most of what we found comes as no shock. People want to keep (i.e. low to zero fees), protect and have easy access to their money. Because of these reasons, Ent Credit Union created the No Strings Checking™ account. Through this account, we offer no monthly maintenance fees, no minimum balance requirements and no ATM fees. You’ll have access to 30,000 no-fee ATMs nationwide. We even pay industry-leading dividends of up to .05% on the money in your checking account. Learn more about our No Strings Checking™ and find out why Forbes named us one of the Best-In-State Credit Unions.

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