Recently, I received a notice from my local credit union about the demise of their free checking account offering. I don’t have a checking account at that credit union (we opened a share account mainly so our son could have the high-yield kid’s account), so the $9 a month service charge doesn’t affect me. However, it made me think: If credit unions are charging for checking accounts now, is there anyplace that offers free checking?
Where and How to Search
My primary banking institution has instituted an activity requirement in order to retain free checking. This isn’t too onerous for me, since I easily meet the activity requirements. However, for someone who might have the checking account for other purposes, adding an activity requirement — or a minimum balance requirement as some banks are doing now — is tantamount to imposing a monthly service charge.
If you want to find a truly free account, you might have to do some checking around. There are still local and regional banks that offer free checking accounts, but you might have to make a few phone calls in order to find them.
Another possibility, of course, is to look online. In many cases, online banks offer options that brick and mortar banks don’t. Because of their low overhead, many online banks are more willing provide free checking accounts.
Switching Your Checking Account
Of course, once you find a free checking that you like, you need to move your money. The most difficult part of this process will be making sure that you can switch all of automatic withdrawals and deposits over. You will need a list of every automatic withdrawal you have, and make sure that you contact the companies to change the account the money is taken from. In some cases, you might need 14 to 20 days to have the switch made, so you will have to plan accordingly.
The trick is in making sure that you have enough money in your current account to cover withdrawals still coming through, while making sure that your new account is properly funded so that the new withdrawals come out without a hitch. Then, you need to make sure that all the account numbers have been switched and the withdrawals are being made properly, as well as making sure that any direct deposits are being made as they should be.
Finally, once all of your financial automation is in order, you can close your old bank account. Usually, all you need to do is go in, with proof of your identity, and withdraw all of your money, and be clear that you are closing your account. There may be some paperwork to sign, so make sure you do so. If you are asked why you are closing your account, make it clear that you are leaving because of the lack of a free checking account. If enough banks hear this refrain, it might be enough to reverse the current trend.
You don’t have to pay fees on a checking account. It may require a little more legwork, but there are still free checking accounts that you can take advantage of.