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Data analysis by financial publisher Bankrate.com finds that just 39 percent of “non-interest checking accounts” are free, a decline from 45 percent last year and 76 percent the year before. So not only are there fees, but the increase in the number of accounts that have them has been sharp.

The AP reports: “Among other fees, the average monthly service fee on checking accounts is a record $5.48, up 25 percent from the Bankrate survey a year ago. Also, the average fee charged by an ATM operator to a non-customer rose 4 percent to a record $2.50, Bankrate said.”

Banks say they’re charging the fees because of government regulations that could cost them “billions.” In other words, they’re passing the cost along to customers.

Well, customers are not having it. Nearly three-quarters of people say they would change banks if any additional fees were tacked on to their account. And they’re not lying either. About a year ago, Bank of America tried to charge $5 per month for debit card purchases. But after a customer revolt, they decided not to. Wanting to avoid the PR disaster, other banks who had planned additional charges followed in BofA’s footsteps.

Interestingly, Bankrate.com found that houses making more than $75,000 per year were the ones most likely to switch banks if new fees were proposed. Which just shows why people with money have it; they look after every dollar. If your bank adds a charge for using another bank’s ATM, try not to do that. In some cases, you’re paying a fee for using an ATM at a bank that’s not yours, and then your bank will add another fee. One transaction can cost as much as $5. Do that twice in a week, and that’s the cost of lunch. It sounds silly, but walk an extra block at lunch to save on that fee. It’s good exercise.

Even with the fees, it’s important that households have, at the very least, a checking account at a reputable bank. You’ll recall our story from just a couple of weeks ago, saying that more than a fifth of black families don’t have a bank account. Instead they’re using cash and alternative financial services, like payday loans, to take care of bills and expenses. These alternatives have fees that far outweigh those that the banks are charging. If you have to pay, better to pay the lower price.

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