Many consumers may not know this but some banks will charge different fees in different states and even different ZIP codes. Not only does your choice-of-bank dictate what fees you’ll pay, your state of residence may also be a factor.
Based upon data from the Pew Safe Checking in the Electronic Age project, which recently released state-by-state details about checking accounts offered by the country’s 12 largest banks, big-bank checking is going to cost the most in the Northeast.
The list of 12 banks is comprised of Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Chase, Citibank, U.S. Bank, PNC Bank, TD Bank, SunTrust Bank, BB&T, HSBC, Regions Bank and Capital One (in terms of a decreasing deposits, as of October 2011).
While the median monthly fees for checking accounts in the rest of the country ranged from $5 to $12.95, the median monthly fees in the northeastern states ranged from $12 to $15.
Alaska had the lowest median monthly fee of $5. Massachusetts and Vermont had the highest median monthly fee of $15.
It’s important to note that no state has a retail presence from all 12 banks and no bank has a branch in every state. Some states only have one big bank serving them. (Hawaii is not served by any of the 12 big banks.)
For instance, Wells Fargo is the only one on the list to operate branches in Alaska. So, Pew only recorded the $5 monthly fee for the bank’s basic checking account, called Value Checking. (In April, Wells Fargo increased the monthly fee to $7 with online statements or $9 with paper statements. The study was conducted before the change occurred.)
Even though the study is skewed in certain states, the Northeast region remains the most expensive area for big-bank checking accounts.
Chase’s basic checking account has a monthly fee of $12 in every state but California, Oregon and Washington, where the account has a $10 monthly fee. Chase has a large footprint in the tri-state area of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.
Banks may have many reasons for state-by-state pricing including population demographics, operation costs and tax, financial and legal structures.
PNC Bank is the only large bank that offers free checking with no strings attached. The bank has a major presence in the Midwest and it does not serve any areas north of New York City.
However, there is no discernible pattern for median balance requirements to avoid the monthly fees. In Vermont, the median balance requirement to waive monthly fees is $250 while in Massachusetts, it is $6,000. (Remember that Vermont and Massachusetts have the highest median monthly fees.)
Although the costs of a big-bank checking account are highest for consumers in the Northeast, it’s not stopping them from using these accounts. In the end, consumers can review their financial situation to see if they are able to avoid these fees.
Unsurprisingly, the large branch presence of big banks is seen as a benefit to some consumers who opt to pay the monthly fees on their checking accounts. Community banks and credit unions may offer much cheaper options, but consumers would also have to consider these institutions’ ability to serve their needs.