Is Free Checking Going Extinct?

New regulations for banks could mean higher checking costs for consumers.

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Nevertheless, if you slip up and overdraw your account, experts recommend having your savings account tied to your checking account to cover shortfalls. That way you avoid hefty overdraft fees and sidestep the embarrassment of having your card declined in the checkout line.

"We recommend that consumers have that protection because it's not just one fee," says Linda Sherry, director of national priorities at Consumer Action. "If more than one payment or debit transaction bounces, you will pay a fee for every instrument that bounces."

[See 12 Money Mistakes Almost Everyone Makes.]

Some banks offer to link a line of credit to your checking account to cover overdrafts. Experts caution consumers to pay off the balance as soon as possible, because while you might avoid a $30 overdraft fee by leveraging a line of credit, you could get slammed with interest fees on the borrowed money if you don't pay it off.

Plan ahead when you need cash. Today, you'll get dinged $3.81, on average, to use an out-of-network ATM, according to Bankrate's survey. To avoid those pesky fees, plan ahead when you know you'll need cash or keep some greenbacks on hand for emergencies so you won't be forced to accept outrageous ATM charges. "Go online or use your mobile device to find nearby ATMs in your network," McBride adds.

mhandley@usnews.com