woman working at home writing a check

‘Check’ It Out

To pay your rent, cover your credit card, cable, and utility bills, buy your groceries, and repay your student loans, you almost certainly need a checking account.


It’s the only way to authorize the transfer of funds, whether you do it in writing or handle everything electronically. Choosing the checking account that’s best for you can be complicated, since accounts come in several varieties. Banks and Credit Unions offer a variety of product offerings so you can always do a web search to get a sense of what’s available to you.

In The Bank

A regular checking account with a conventional or online bank is likely to cost you—unless you can find a way to avoid it. Most big banks charge either a monthly fee, a fee for each check or ATM withdrawal, or sometimes a combination of monthly and per-use fees. Charges can range upward from 35 cents per check and $2 or $3 per ATM withdrawal, and flat fees run, on average, from $7.50 to $15 a month.

Some banks may offer free checking and ATM use for a short time to attract your business. And most banks waive their fees if you keep a minimum balance in your checking account or in a combination of accounts in the bank. The catch here is the minimum can seem pretty maximum, though amounts vary.

To avoid the hassle of figuring out all the stipulations and fees that may come with signing up for an account at a conventional bank, the Credit Union offers Community Checking, which is a free checking account, when you sign up for eStatements.

Word Check

Checking accounts are actually transaction accounts. That means you can authorize the Credit Union to transfer money from your account to another person or organization either by writing a check that includes the words “Pay to the order of” or by electronic transfer. In contrast, a Savings Account is a non-transaction account and the only things you can do are withdrawals or transfers—electronic or traditional—to another account in your name.

Graphic design of a calculator, a check, and a credit or debit card on an artistic background

Doing Double Duty

One way to manage a minimum balance requirement is to put the money you’ve set aside for your emergency fund in a Term Share Certificate or Money Market account.

The money is safe, which meets one of the basic criteria for an emergency fund. And if you’re ever in serious enough financial trouble to withdraw the money, the potential lost interest or below-minimum fees will probably be the least of your worries.

Weighing In

If you have to maintain a minimum balance to get free checking, you might want to ask yourself a few questions:

A New Interest in Checking

Like regular checking, an interest-bearing checking account lets you write as many checks as you want each month and use the bank’s ATMs. The added benefit of these accounts is that you earn interest on your balance at the rate the banking institution sets, often about the same as you’d earn on a savings account.

So why wouldn’t you choose to earn while you spend? Well, at conventional banks, unless you maintain the minimum balance—an amount each banking institution determines for themselves—you not only forfeit the interest but typically owe more—sometimes much more—in fees than you would for a regular account at the same bank. Those fees can kick in for any month your balance drops below the minimum, sometimes even if it’s just for a day or two or just a few dollars.

However, with the Credit Union’s Premium Checking account, you’ll receive dividends based on your balance, and the low $5 monthly fee is waived if the average daily balance is at least $500, or your aggregate balance (Loans and Savings) is at least $2,500, or you are over 55 years of age. We make it easy to earn dividends while avoiding unnecessary or exorbitant fees.

Look at our options to open a checking account

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