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Survey: Most Americans pay zero for bank services

WASHINGTON — The majority of Americans—61 percent—pay nothing at all for bank services such as checking account maintenance and ATM access, according to a recent survey by the American Bankers Association. Most bank customers (72 percent) spend $3 or less in monthly fees—less than the cost of a gallon of milk.  

“We've seen tremendous innovations to bank services over the last decade that have allowed our customers to bank in the way that is most convenient for them and at little or no cost,” said Nessa Feddis, ABA's senior vice president and deputy chief counsel for consumer protection and payments. “Today's consumers have become adept at using the many options that may allow them to bank for free, whether it's maintaining a minimum balance, opting for direct deposit or using ATMs owned by their bank.” 

The annual survey of 1,000 U.S. adults was conducted for ABA by Ipsos Public Affairs, an independent market research firm, July 8-13, 2015.  ABA has conducted the survey annually since 1998.

When asked “How much do you estimate you spend on fees for banking services each month, such as fees for checking account maintenance, ATM use and so forth?”, consumers provided the following responses:

  • Nothing – 61 percent (62 percent in 2014)
  • $3 or less – 11 percent (12 percent in 2014)
  • $4 to $6 – 6  percent (7 percent in 2014)
  • $7 to $9 – 4 percent (3 percent in 2014) 
  • $10 or more – 10 percent (7 percent in 2014)
  • Unsure – 8 percent (9 percent in 2014)

The number of people who said they pay nothing in bank fees remained above 60 percent for the second year in a row, declining by one point following a 7 percent increase last year. While regulatory issues have made providing universal free checking accounts more challenging, Feddis noted that many consumers are still finding ways to avoid paying for bank services. 

“The financial services marketplace remains highly competitive and consumers hold all the cards,” said Feddis.  “Many bank customers are continuing to gain free access to a service that ensures their money is secure and available 24/7 across multiple convenient channels.”

ABA has highlighted eight tips to help consumers reduce their banking costs:

  • Utilize free checking and savings accounts. Many banks still offer them, especially if you maintain a minimum balance. Shop your own bank first.
  • Utilize direct deposit. Many checking accounts are free when you use direct deposit.
  • Keep a minimum balance. Consider keeping a small amount to pad your account. This helps to avoid monthly fees and accidental overdrafts.
  • Take advantage of college partnerships with banks. College students may find special checking account deals at banks with whom their college has a partnership.
  • Keep multiple accounts at your bank. Many banks are looking at the entire customer relationship and may offer free services if you maintain both checking and savings accounts with them, for example.
  • Use your bank's ATMs and reduce the use of foreign ATMs. Avoid fees by using ATMs owned by or affiliated with your bank. If you must use an ATM not affiliated with your bank, take out larger withdrawals to avoid having to go back multiple times. Consider the cash-back option at the grocery store.
  • Don't spend more money than you have. Keep track of transactions and account balances to avoid overdraft fees, which is easier and easier to do with features such as mobile banking apps.
  • Sign up for email or text alerts. Ask for an automatic alert when your balance falls below a certain level. 

About the Survey
These are some of the findings of an Ipsos poll conducted July 8-13, 2015. For the survey, a national sample of 1,000 adults aged 18 and older were interviewed by telephone. Weighting was employed to balance demographics and ensure that the sample's composition reflects that of the universe. A survey with an unweighted probability sample of this size and a 100% response rate would have an estimated margin of error of +/- 3.1 percentage points 19 times out of 20 of what the results would have been if the entire population of adults aged 18 and older in the United States had been polled. All sample surveys and polls may be subject to other sources of error, including, but not limited to coverage error, and measurement error.

The American Bankers Association is the voice of the nation's $16 trillion banking industry, which is composed of small, regional and large banks that together employ more than 2 million people, safeguard $12 trillion in deposits and extend more than $8 trillion in loans.

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