FOSTER CITY, Calif., Feb. 23, 2015 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- The latest MoneyRates.com Bank Fees Survey reveals that several types of checking-account and ATM fees hit their highest recorded averages in the second half of 2014. This marked the continuation of a trend that has seen consumers' banking costs drift steadily upward since the Great Recession.
The semiannual study found that the average monthly maintenance charge on a checking account hit a record high in the last six months of 2014, rising 18 cents over the midyear 2014 survey to reach $12.87. The same was true of the average minimum balance to avoid a monthly fee, as it climbed $268.76 to reach a new high of $5,708.76.
Perhaps more troubling, the percentage of checking accounts that don't charge a monthly maintenance fee – also known as "free" checking accounts – fell to just 26 percent. That's the lowest level recorded since MoneyRates.com began measuring these figures in 2009.
"Free checking used to be commonplace," says Richard Barrington, CFA, senior financial analyst for MoneyRates.com. "Now, free checking isn't quite extinct, but let's just say it's on the endangered species list."
The study also shows across-the-board increases in ATM fees in the second half of 2014. The average bank-to-customer charge to use an out-of-network ATM climbed 9 cents to $1.61. The average bank-to-noncustomer charge to use an ATM increased by 14 cents to $2.65.
There was only one bright spot for consumers in the overall results of the survey, and it wasn't particularly bright. The average overdraft fee in the survey fell by 1 cent to $32.47.
However, consumers might still find encouragement in the lower fees offered by the survey's online-serviced accounts. Online accounts beat traditional branch-serviced accounts in every fee category measured by the survey. For example, the percentage of online accounts that charge no monthly maintenance fee was 63 percent. Only 24 percent of branch-based accounts came with no fees of this sort.
Fee-weary customers may also wish to avoid the nation's largest banks as well. The study shows that large banks offer free checking much less often than their smaller counterparts. At the larger banks in the study – defined here as those with more than $10 billion in deposits – the average minimum balance required to earn a fee waiver was $9,780.95. That figure was more than 70 percent higher than the overall survey average.
Barrington says this is a good reason to consider looking beyond the most prominent banks in your neighborhood.
"By definition, these larger banks are the ones that have attracted the most deposits, but they are the most expensive options for consumers," says Barrington. "A little more time spent shopping for lower fees could pay off for years to come."
For more details on the survey, please see http://www.money-rates.com/research-center/bank-fees/.
The Bank Fees Survey is updated twice a year using data on checking accounts offered by banks in the MoneyRates Index. The MoneyRates Index is a composite of more than 100 banks, including the 50 largest U.S. banks by deposit amount and a similar number of smaller banks. This sampling was constructed to be broadly representative of the general banking environment.
MoneyRates.com has been a leading source of information on bank rates, personal finance, savings accounts and investing since 1999. The site provides the highest rates on certificates of deposit, money market accounts and high-yield savings accounts. MoneyRates.com is owned and operated by QuinStreet, Inc. (NASDAQ: QNST), one of the largest Internet marketing and media companies in the world. QuinStreet is committed to providing consumers and businesses with the information they need to research, find and select the products, services and brands that best meet their needs. The company is a leader in ethical marketing practices. For more information, please visit QuinStreet.com.