Tired of Bank Fees?

Change can be tough. I blame it on a Scandinavian heritage but it’s probably just “me.” I recently changed internet providers and dropped our landline at home. That was a lot of change – but in the end something that will reduce costs of the household budget and use the dollars more wisely that are spent on communication. I’ve used the same bank for almost 30 years – again, change is tough. But – looking at this article by Mary Hunt (from Everyday Cheapskate) on credit unions just may have me incorporating a little more change (cha-ching) in 2012.

Free Checking Accounts Still Out There

Many bank customers have been feeling nickeled-and-dimed by their banks for some time. And as banks scramble to make up for lost revenue, some are demanding even steeper fees. The country’s largest banks are charging consumers as much as $50 a month if they do not maintain minimum balances or meet other requirements for certain high-end checking and savings accounts. What lunacy! Why should we pay a cent to have access to our own money?

While free bank accounts are disappearing, there are still a few out there. You just have to know where to look. Hint: credit unions. While not all credit unions offer free accounts, many still do. In doing research for this column, I have discovered one that’s even better than free!

Firstmark Credit Union (FirstmarkCU.org) has one of the best free checking accounts I have ever seen. Firstmark is located in Texas, but anyone can join regardless of where they live or work.

What makes a Firstmark Credit Union checking account even better than free? Customers who use their debit card (unlike your humble columnist) earn 10 cents for every signature-based debit-card transaction. You can also earn $25 bonuses by receiving statements online, using their debit card, paying one bill with online bill pay and signing up for direct deposit. Do all four (use promo code GET100) and you can have $100 added to your balance. But there’s more: Firstmark’s free checking account pays 0.10 percent APY on your balance—not much, but better than nothing.

Firstmark offers 11 local branches in the San Antonio area, but anyone can join online. Go to FirstmarkCU.org, and click on “Open a Free Checking Account.” On the next page, look for “Become a Member.” In that list, select “Other Eligible Groups.” Use the pulldown menu and select “None of the above.” Whew! You’re almost there.

Ready for another bonus? You can join Firstmark by becoming a member of the Friends of the Park Foundation, a charitable group that supports the San Antonio Parks Foundation. Firstmark takes care of your first year’s dues, and you’re under no obligation to renew your membership for a second year. This means you qualify for membership at Firstmark by being a member of the Friends of the Park Foundation.

And the best part? Once you are a credit union member, you will enjoy “Once a Member, Always a Member.” You will be able to enjoy the benefits of Firstmark Credit Union for the rest of your life, including free checks, too.

Firstmark is part of the Allpoint network, which provides its members free use of 35,000 ATMs nationwide and 43,000 around the world. All of the ATMs in 7-Eleven, Target, Walgreens and Costco, for example, belong to Allpoint.

If you’re paying even a dime in bank fees, ask yourself this question: Why? Then get busy finding a better alternative that won’t cost you. And it just might pay you to make the switch, too!

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