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Should you look for a new checking account?

Quick. How much are you paying every month just to have a checking account?

And for ATM fees?

Continue reading below

If you’re not sure, it’s time to find out.

Checking account fees have soared over the past year as banks try to boost profits. Depending on your situation, it may be time to jump to another bank.

The average monthly service fee on checking accounts that don’t pay interest is now a record $5.48, a 25 percent increase over last year, according to Bankrate, a financial data publisher.

The fee for using an ATM outside a bank’s network rose to $2.50, a 4 percent increase.

Overdraft fees rose to an average $31.26, up 1.4 percent.

If you’re paying hefty fees, you don’t necessarily have to switch banks, says Greg McBride, a senior financial analyst at Bankrate. Ask your bank if there is anything you can do to get your fees waived. Some banks will give you free checking if you set up direct deposits into the account or maintain a minimum balance.

Decide what you want

You need to look for a bank that suits your specific needs. Sometimes that means sticking with a bank that charges a checking account fee.

If you think you’ll need to sign up for multiple products, such as mortgage or a car loan, you have to decide if you want a bank that offers all those things or use multiple banks.

Bigger banks have more branches, making it more convenient if you prefer speaking to someone. But if you want to get to know the people who work at your bank, a smaller one might be right for you.

Shop around

Several websites enable users to search for checking account offers in their area. NerdWallet.com and Bankrate.com lay out the fees that could be charged and also lists any rules you need to follow in order to qualify for free checking.

Consider credit unions

Most credit unions offer truly ­free checking accounts, meaning you ­won’t have to maintain a balance or sign up for direct deposits to avoid a monthly fee. Credit unions cater to a specific group, such as employees of a certain company or residents of a specific neighborhood. You can search for a credit union near you at www.ASmarter­Choice.org or www.CULookup.com. Credit unions also have more favorable interest rates on their savings accounts and loans.

They also have large ATM networks that are comparable to the big banks.

Explore Internet banks

Online banks such as ING Direct and Ally Bank do not charge monthly maintenance fees. They also let you open an account with no minimum deposit. Both also pay interest on their checking accounts, which is hard to find at brick-and-mortar banks. ING Direct offers a 0.19 percent interest rate on balances under $50,000 in their checking accounts. But Net banks are not for everyone, especially if you value talking to someone.

Joseph Pisani writes for the Associated Press.
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