Consumers' wallets are really getting the squeeze. Free checking is becoming even rarer, and fees for banking services and penalties for bounced checks are on the rise, according to Bankrate's checking study released today.

Free checking free fall
According to the survey, this year, only 45% of non-interest checking accounts offered were free, down substantially from the 65% offered last year and 76% two years ago. And the hurdles to qualify for fee waivers have gotten substantially higher.

For non-interest accounts, the average monthly fee jumped a staggering 75.5% this year to $4.37 over last year. One way to avoid the fee is to maintain a minimum balance in your account, but that minimum has jumped to $585 -- more than double from a year ago.

On accounts that pay interest, the average monthly fee rose 8.5% to $14.15. The requirement to avoid paying such fees is to hold a substantially higher balance of $5,587, up 44% from the previous year.

There are an increasing number of fee waivers, like signing up for direct deposit, Greg McBride, Bankrate's senior financial analyst, said in a statement. He added that 92% of non-interest accounts can become free or are free when factoring in these waivers.

ATM extortion
If paying a fee to park your cash in the bank isn't painful enough, consider what consumers are paying to get to their money. Fees for using an ATM operated by a bank other than your own are continuing to rise to record levels.

ATM fees hit a new high for the seventh consecutive year, reaching an average fee of $2.40 per transaction for non-customers of a bank's ATM, according to the survey. That average fee is 3% higher than last year.

When adding in the typical fee customers' banks charge them when using another bank's ATM, the total bill is an average $3.81 per transaction for an out-of-network ATM, Bankrate says.

"The ATM surcharge is almost universal, and it's been that way for years," McBride said. "The fee increasing every year is a function of somebody planting a flag every year and moving their fee up to that next threshold."

Consumers, however, can lessen the sting by placing an ATM-locator app on their smartphone or mobile device to point them to their own bank's money machine to avoid the out-of-network fees, or consider using their debit card to get cash back when making a purchase at a grocery store for a much smaller transaction fee, McBride noted.

Overdraft ouches
ATM fees aren't the only thing on the rise. Consumers with bounced checks or trying to access more funds than they have in their checking accounts with debit cards are also encountering higher overdraft or nonsufficient funds charges.

Overdraft fees reached a record for the 13th consecutive year this year, climbing 1% to $30.83. But if it's any consolation, the rate of the increase is slowing and still less than the Consumer Price Index that climbed 3.6% in the year prior to the study, McBride says.

Consumers also have an easier time these days avoiding such fees, because banks are now required to ask customers to opt into an overdraft protection program for their ATM and debit cards, rather than automatically signing them up.

If customers have insufficient funds and are not enrolled in an overdraft protection program, they'll be turned away at the cash register when trying to make a purchase, rather than being allowed to go forward with the transaction and later receive an overdraft protection fee hit.

McBride suggests that if you're not comfortable with the possibility of being declined at the register, many banks allow you to link your checking account to a savings account or line of credit, and they charge a lesser fee to draw money from those sources to cover a shortfall.

Bounced checks, however, are a different matter, and consumers will still have to pay lofty overdraft fees.

Motley Fool contributor Dawn Kawamoto does not own shares in any of the companies mentioned.

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Fed res dollar printing has increased to keep up with US treasury's need for them as debt buyer of last resort. Euro is doing same for their debt but doesn't hold the luxury as world's res currency. Fed exports it's inflation to the world euro can't & WILL hypor inflate to ZERO. Europ will run to the dollar as others trade for gld/slvr. Even with small demand increase gld/slvr price rise outside the fed's ability to keep suprpressed & dollar will start its final fall, world WILL panic & gld/slvr will BE only reserve currency. World fiat monotary system is collapsing & we face deep depression. Got Gold? China & India does, why's that you figure?

December 26 2011 at 2:16 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Fire your bankster and take out your money. Then go to your coin dealer and exchange your worthless fed res paper for real money, gold and silver coin. Life gets a lot better when you free yourself from the fed res! Got gold?

December 26 2011 at 2:16 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Assume there are N people in the economy. Each borrows X amount, and promises to pay X+I. Thus total money supply becomes N*X. But total debt is N(X+I). Without increasing N, and creating more borrowers, it is not practically possible for this population to be employed at salary levels where each can earn X+I. They can only earn X. Because money supply is N*X, therefore, each person can reasonably earn X. But all of them cannot. When some of them earns X+I, some other can only earn X-I. What am I talking about? Google for "HOW DO BANKS CREATE MONEY" to understand how inflation and deflation happens.

September 28 2011 at 1:23 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Only for people who live beyond their means! I lived well below my means and retired at 54. All of you big spenders can eat my dust. Oh, sorry, I have a call from one of my friends who wants to sailing....see you later. LOSERS!

September 27 2011 at 4:41 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I went to a credit union when my bank wanted me to keep5,000 on account or they would charge me 17 and change a month if i didnt

September 27 2011 at 4:17 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Banks like other financial institutions will in the future have to compete for the dollar. This is no way to do it as it just creates ill feeling among its customers and drives them away which seems to be the purpose of it in the first place.

September 27 2011 at 4:10 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply

I don't know how many people know it -- and it's nothing the media emphasizes -- but the banks have long since paid back the so-called bailout money. I say so-called because it wasn't a gift as the name implies. It was a loan, and like all loans it bore interest which the banks have also paid. In other words the taxpayer made money off the deal.

Oh yeah, I almost forgot. The big Wall Street banks all paid, and they paid first. The smaller regional and local banks were a bit tardy, though I think almost all have paid by now.

September 27 2011 at 12:18 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Did you know that the Federal Reserve is buying the treasuries, and is expanding its list of assets it can hold so the banks can foreclose more rapidly on the public?

The Federal Reserve wants the banks to force people out of their homes, and is willing to take on the bad loans, so the banks have a place to send them, in order to speed the process of forcing the real estate collapse to speed along, allowing the banks to get rid of bad loans rather than work them out with the homeowners, and then forcing the consumers to bear the pain.

This is what you get, after bailing out the banking industry with $700 billion that could have gone to roads, teachers, and worker assistance programs.

It is outrageous and criminal, yet it is happening as we speak. The Banking system has already determined that it wants to foreclose on homes, and then sell the properties to private equity funds at penny's on the dollar. This type of activity is criminal, immoral, and is exactly why we should view what the Federal Reserve does with caution - they manipulate interest rates, money supply, and access to capital, and were the root cause of the economic slowdown when they maintained short term rates at 5% a few years ago in order to raise unemployment for corporate America.

Be Aware... this is a land grab by the East Coast taking place... be fully aware of what is taking place... it is ugly!

September 27 2011 at 8:52 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Watch out for:L
ATM Fees
Foreign (non-bank network) ATM Fees (on top of the ATM fee)
Inactivity fee
Inactive use of debit card fee
Low Balance Fee
NSF Fee (justifiable)
Teller Fee ( MOST RIDICULAOUS FEE ON EARTH- charged for using a teller!)
Receipt Fee (OUTRAGEOUS)
Statement Fee

Why are we using banks, at 0.5% interest for a 1 year?
You can get access to money from many alternative sources... learn to become your own bank...
Visit it is a users forum... share your experiences and tell all - help the consumer to save, and to be smart... and help to reform the banking industry! is a free site, with no subscriptions and it offers great articles for helping consumers!

September 27 2011 at 8:46 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

You can deposit funds into a whole lifepolicy.
If you have an old policy, it may pay over 4%.

My Universalpolicy that I bought in 1980's has a floor rate of 4%. Use your life insurance policy for safe storage, and when you need it, led it to yourself, and pay YOURSELF interest. IT IS TIME TO RUN THE BANKS OUT OF TOWN

September 27 2011 at 8:40 AM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply