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  Free checking account

Just about every adult needs a checking account, and for most people a free checking account will do just fine.

Many people think they have a free checking account, but they don't. They're doing something for it to be free, such as maintaining a certain balance or paying a fee for going over their monthly portion of checks.

The federal Truth in Savings Act requires that a free account have no minimum balance requirement and no maintenance or activity fees. A maintenance fee might be a monthly service charge that you experience if your balance slips below a certain level. An activity fee could be a charge for writing more than a specified number of checks in a month.

Free checking isn't for every person. Most free checking accounts don't pay interest, and some accounts have limitations or stipulations. Get a free checking account at some banks and you might be limited to withdrawing $300 per day at an ATM. Other banks may require that a regular payment such as a paycheck or government check be direct-deposited.

Consumers also need to realize that free doesn't mean there can't be other fees. There are plenty of "legitimate" fees that can still be charged in conjunction with a free checking account.

Many banks include a debit card with free checking accounts. Unfortunately, more and more people are finding that their bank charges a fee every time they swipe their cards at a cash register.

For example, many banks waive fees if you maintain a certain balance. If maintaining that balance is OK with you, then you have essentially created a free account for yourself.

When applying for free checking, or any checking account for that matter, you should receive a copy of the bank's fee schedule. If you don't, ask it from bank. Also, look for conditions such as direct deposit.

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