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Want free checking? Find a credit union!

NEED TO KNOW
  • 72% of America's 50 largest credit unions offer free checking
  • Banks' minimum balance requirements tend to be much higher than those at credit unions
Want free checking? Find a credit union!

When it comes to choosing a checking account, credit unions are most often the way to go. About 72 percent of America's 50 largest credit unions now offer free checking accounts without requiring a minimum balance, down from 76 percent last year, according to Bankrate.com's 2012 Credit Union Survey. Bankrate surveys credit unions and banks in order to give consumers an idea of what's out there and what types of institutions have the best offers.

About 10 percent of credit unions will actually waive monthly fees if you maintain a minimum balance ranging from $100 to $750. Banks are another story. Only 45 percent of banks offer free checking without minimum balance requirements, and banks' minimum balance requirements are usually much higher than those associated with accounts at credit unions. According to Bankrate's most recent research, those requirements can be $585 for non-interest bearing accounts and as much as $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,” said Greg McBride, Bankrate.com’s senior financial analyst in a company statement. “So credit unions remain a viable, consumer-friendly alternative for finding a free checking account.”

The majority, about 68 percent, of credit union checking accounts that Bankrate surveyed don't pay interest. But the fact that most of them don't require a minimum balance is a great perk for a lot of struggling Americans today. Those that do pay interest yield an average of 0.12%, down from about 0.17% last year, which Bankrate points out is consistent with declines seen in cash investments over the past few years.

To find out more about credit unions and how to qualify for one, check out the Credit Union National Association.

Click here to view Bankrate's full survey.

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