Did your checking account just go from free to fee?
“Bank of America has eliminated its only free checking account that doesn’t require a minimum balance, causing an uproar from customers on social media and spurring a petition to reverse the decision.”
—“Bank of America ends free checking option, causing customer uproar,” Chicago Tribune, 1/23/18
It may be time to break up with your bank. In a widely unpopular move, Bank of America has forced many of its customers into a bind: Keep a minimum daily balance of $1,500 or set up a monthly direct deposit of $250, or pay $12 a month in maintenance fees.
Let me say this loud and clear. No one—and especially not low-income individuals or freelancers without a steady paycheck—should have to pay $144 a year simply to have access to their checking account. Not when we have so many banking options, both online and in-person.
Stepping back for a minute, about 9 million American households don’t have any bank account, and an additional 24.5 million households are underbanked—meaning they have an account at an accredited bank but still receive alternative financial services outside of the banking system. We should encourage financial capability and trust in federally insured institutions rather than turn people away from basic financial resources—and toward costly alternatives like prepaid debit cards, payday loans, and check-cashing facilities. Checking accounts offer a safe place to store and access cash, and everyone should have a right to peace of mind when it comes to their money.
But where to turn now that Bank of America is doing away with its free checking accounts? According to a 2015 FDIC survey, 55.8% of households without bank accounts believe that banks are not at all interested in serving them. Yet while Bank of America’s actions may reinforce that belief, plenty of online banks and credit unions offer accounts suitable for low-income families or people without a regular paycheck.
Here are a few free checking accounts to consider:
(A word of caution about online-only banks: It’s often difficult to deposit paper cash—so if most of your income comes in cash tips instead of a paycheck, you may want to consider a credit union.)
Simple. An FDIC-insured online bank owned by BBVA Compass that requires no minimum balance and charges no checking account fees, including ATM or overdraft fees.
Ally. An FDIC-insured online bank that requires no minimum balance for free checking accounts. You also earn 0.1% interest on the money in your account. (I generally suggest avoiding interest-bearing checking accounts when they come with minimum balance requirements—but Ally has none.)
Your local credit union. If you’re more comfortable with a brick-and-mortar banking experience, many credit unions offer free checking accounts with no (or a very low) minimum balance, and most are federally insured. Before signing up for a credit union, make sure it provides all the services you need, such as free ATM withdrawal at select machines and online bill-paying technology. You can locate a credit union here.