Far More CUs Than Banks Offer Free Checking

Only 45% of banks offer free checking options vs. 72% of CUs.

August 15, 2012

Nearly three-fourths (72%) of America’s 50 largest credit unions offer free checking accounts without a minimum balance requirement, according to’s 2012 Credit Union Checking Survey.

Plus, an additional 10% of these credit unions will waive monthly fees if account holders maintain a minimum balance ranging from $100 to $750.

In comparison, only 45% of banks offer free checking without minimum balance requirements, and banks’ minimum balance requirements tend to be much higher: $585 for noninterest-bearing accounts—and a staggering $5,587 for interest checking accounts.

“Overall, 98% of the credit union checking accounts that we surveyed are either free or can become free if the account holder meets minimum balance, direct deposit, and/or e-statement requirements,” says Greg McBride, CFA,’s senior financial analyst. “So credit unions remain a viable, consumer-friendly alternative for finding a free checking account.”

Most credit union checking accounts that surveyed (68%) don’t pay interest. Those that do yield an average of 0.12%, down from 0.17% last year, which is consistent with the ongoing declines seen in cash investments.

Other findings:

  • Credit unions also charge less than banks for overdrafts. The average cost of the first overdraft is $26.65 among credit unions, compared to $30.83 at banks. The most common fees credit unions asses are $25 and $30, compared to $35 at banks.
  • Ninety-six percent of credit unions surveyed charge nonmembers for using their ATMs. The average ATM surcharge is $2.08, versus $2.40 at bank-owned ATMs.

The most common credit union surcharge is $2, compared to $3 at banks.