It's getting ever harder to find free checking at the nation's banks, with barely three in 10 accounts coming with no monthly service fees, according to a new survey.
Only 30.3% of checking accounts surveyed had no monthly charges as of June 30, down from 36.6% at the end of 2012, according to MoneyRates.com. That's the lowest rate of free checking since the website started its twice-annual report in 2009.
Not surprisingly, online-only banks offer free checking far more readily than bricks-and-mortar institutions.
Nearly 79% of the online accounts surveyed had no monthly fees, versus 28% from traditional banks, according to the survey.
And when Internet-based banks assess a fee, it's typically lower than at the bank around the corner. The average online fee was $9.49, versus $12.48 at traditional institutions.
Online banks offer free checking accounts more frequently because they have lower costs than traditional banks, said Richard Barrington, senior financial analyst for MoneyRates.com
"When people bank online, banks save money on everything from the cost of sending out statements to the expense of staffing their branches," Barrington said. "The amount of free online checking accounts reflects that savings, and also represents an incentive for people to bank in more cost-effective ways."