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Tackling Record-High ATM, Checking Account Fees

Bank charges have hit all-time highs. Free checking accounts have all but disappeared and ATM charges are up. Will you switch banks?

Has your bank raised fees on checking accounts and ATM transactions?

If so, you're not alone.

A survey by the trade industry group Bankrate.com found that "almost every checking fee we follow went up, with some bank fees rising 25 percent or more."

Free checking accounts are quickly disappearing. Bankrate found that just 39 percent of non-interest checking accounts are free of charge to all customers — down from 45 percent last year and a peak of 76 percent in 2009.

The same group said poll results suggest that 72 percent of Americans would consider switching banks if their financial institution raised its fees. That figure was 64 percent in March 2011.

A fee revolt swept the nation at the end of 2011 when a grassroots campaign — Move Our Money — persuaded many Americans to move their money from big banks to community banks or credit unions. Locally, we saw that campaign make its way here with the Occupy Milwaukee movement. from the once quiet crowd as they began marching down Michigan Avenue. 

One way to explore whether or not it's time to change banks is to use online comparison tools, such as FindABetterBank.com or through BankRate.com's comparison charts.

Fees at Major Banks in Brookfield

Bank Min. Balance to Open Min. Balance to Avoid Fees Monthly Fees Insufficient Funds Fee Fee at Other ATMs Associated Bank Advantage Checking $100 $500 $10 $35 $2
Bank Mutual Ultimate Checking $50-$100 none-fee always applied $8.95 $35 $2
Chase Bank $25 $1,500 $12 $34 $2
Cornerstone Community Bank $0 $0 $0 $35 $1.50
Great Midwest Bank Totally Free Checking $200 $0 $0 $20 1st 3 free, then $0.75 M&I Bank $100 $1,000 $7 $35 $2
North Shore Bank $50 $750 $4.95 $35 $2
PNC Bank Virtual Wallet $25 $0 $10 $25 $2.50
Tri City $50 $0 $0 $30 $1
US Bank Easy Checking $25 $1,500 $6.95/8.95 $33 $2.50

While many of these local banks have monthly fees, most offer ways to offset those fees, such as direct deposit or minimum balances.

Have you recognized a rise in ATM and checking fees? Are you doing anything about it, like switching banks? Share your experience in the comments, and any tips for avoiding extra charges.

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