Here are the key findings from the Bankrate 2012 checking survey:
- The average monthly maintenance fee for a non-interest checking account is now at a record high of $5.48. That's a jump of 25 percent from last year.
- Overdraft fees are also at a record high -- the average overdraft fee is now $31.26.
- And the cost to get cash from an out-of-network ATM is up dramatically. Expect to pay an average fee of $2.50 to the owner of the ATM-- a new record -- plus your bank will charge you another $1.57 on average, an increase of 11 percent.
"The availability of free checking continues to decline," said Greg McBride, Senior Financial Analyst at Bankrate.com. "At this point, just 39 percent of non-interest accounts are available for free with no strings attached. And that's down from a peak of 76 percent just 3 years ago."
Why is this happening?
"The decline of free checking and the acceleration of bank fees is attributable to two regulatory changes that have left banks with a big revenue gap to fill - restrictions on when they can charge overdraft fees and restrictions on how much money they get when consumers swipe their debit card," McBride said. "Both have left them a big revenue gap that they have to fill either by raising other fees or eliminating the free checking account."
The survey shows that you can still get a free non-interest checking account at most banks, but it may require a minimum deposit or signing up for direct deposit of your paycheck or Social Security check.
Of course, there is another option: move your money. Look for a financial institution - a credit union, community bank or online bank - that offers totally free checking with no requirements to qualify. Bankrate found that 72 percent of the largest credit unions still offer free checking.