Q: Everyone seems to be offering “free checking” these days. How do I know who has the real deal? What questions should I be asking as I comparison shop and what should I be looking for?
A: The federal Truth in Savings Act (TISA) mandates a no minimum balance requirement and no maintenance or activity fees in order for it to be advertised as “free.” Taken in that context, a “free” checking account truly is free. However, free doesn’t mean there can’t be fees. Fees that can still be charged in conjunction with a free checking account include non-sufficient funds, stop payment, check printing, dormancy and early account closure fees – just to name a few.
The trade-offs with “free” accounts are typically requirements of other activity – such as electronic statements or direct deposit. In addition, few pay dividends. You might want to look for an account that offers courtesy pay or overdraft privileges as a service.
The bottom line
Before applying for a free checking account, or any account for that matter, make sure you obtain a copy of the institution’s fee schedule. Review it closely to make sure your checking behaviors won’t produce fees on your “free” checking account.