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Lifestyle & Budget

Five Tips for Finding Free Checking

Write Check Credit Card Bill

Ever since recent government regulations cut into bank profits from overdraft fees and debit card swipe fees, big banks have been scrambling to find ways to replace that revenue. At many banks, that has placed free checking accounts on the chopping block.

Wells Fargo and Bank of America (BAC) are just two of the institutions that have recently announced plans to start charging more customers for their checking accounts. But while it might seem like free checking is going the way of the dodo, there are still plenty of opportunities to find accounts without fees.

Here are five ways to get your free checking back:

1. Switch to an online bank

Without branches and traditional tellers, online banks are generally able to keep their fees lower than brick-and-mortar institutions. So you may find the best checking accounts for free banking are just a click away. As a bonus, online bank rates often beat anything that can be found at a traditional bank. Also look for online savings accounts with high interest rates, and open one along with your new checking account if your current savings account isn't paying what you'd like.

2. Consider a credit union

If you are not ready to move your banking to the virtual world, check out local credit unions. Offering many of the same services as banks as well as deposit insurance of up to $250,000 through the National Credit Union Administration, credit unions are known for keeping their fees low, and many still provide free checking accounts to their members.

3. Direct deposit your paycheck

The big banks know customers may balk at the idea of paying for checking accounts, so some are offering ways to bypass the new fees. At some institutions, using direct deposit may be one way to skip a monthly charge. For example, the Wells Fargo Essential checking account is still free for those direct-depositing at least $500 a month.

4. Build your balance

Another way to avoid the fees is to carry a balance in your checking account. For example, Chase will waive fees on certain accounts so long as the minimum balance is kept above $1,500. If your savings account interest is rather anemic, you may find it makes sense to keep your emergency fund in your checking account instead. To avoid the temptation to spend the balance, deduct that amount from your checkbook register and pretend it isn't there.

5. Open a credit card account

Finally, you may be eligible for free checking if you have a credit card or loan with the bank. If you are not keen on going into debt in exchange for free checking, keep in mind banks don't necessarily require that you carry a balance or even use the card. Open a credit card account, cut up the card when it arrives in the mail and then enjoy your free checking.

It may be more difficult to find free checking accounts today, but it's certainly not impossible. Taking the time to compare online checking accounts with those offered by local banks and credit unions can ultimately save you money every month.

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5 tips for finding free checking