Financial institutions cut back on checking account fees during the second half of last year, as consumers hopped on cheaper banking. According to a report released this week by MoneyRates.com, the share of checking accounts that do not charge monthly maintenance fees rose to 39 percent, up from 35 percent in mid-2011. While the percentage of free checking accounts increased, overdraft and ATM fees climbed slightly. The average fee for using an out-of-network ATM jumped to $1.10, up 29 percent from the last survey. Meanwhile, overdraft charges rose to $29.23 from the average of $28.85 noted in mid-2011. The data signal that banks were responding to general public discontent following complaints about proposed checking and debit card fees, but also that they were not willing to lower fees across the board. "Unlike monthly maintenance fees, overdraft fees and ATM fees are charges you can avoid with sensible banking behavior," said Richard Barrington, senior financial analyst for MoneyRates.. "Opt out of overdraft protection - you'll not only avoid these fees, but you will probably develop better banking habits." Still, banks are likely to broaden their consumer credit risk management
practices in coming months due to mounting risk.