ATM fees hit record high

Surcharge rate goes up to $1.74 average; records also reached for bounced checks, interesting-bearing checking balance.

NEW YORK ( -- ATM surcharges and several other bank fees climbed to record levels over the past year, according to the latest survey from Bankrate.

The firm's fall 2007 Checking Study found the average ATM fee jumped to $1.78, up from $1.64 a year earlier. Meanwhile, bounced check fees increased from $27.40 in 2006 to $28.32 this year, and monthly service fees on interest-bearing checking accounts climbed from $10.74 to $11.72.

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Bankrate also found that the most common ATM surcharge is $2, up from $1.50, and 99 percent of banks surveyed charge a fee for using an ATM card at other banks.

The survey also found that it now takes an average balance of more than $3,300 to avoid fees on interest-bearing checking accounts. Another record high was hit in the category of minimum balance needed to open an interest-bearing account, with that number jumping 60 percent from $615.41 last year to $986.19 in 2007.

The good news: Some 68 percent of non-interest checking accounts have no fees or minimum balance requirement and online banks are offering free checking accounts with yields as high as 5 percent.

To avoid the escalating fees, Bankrate advises using your bank's ATM machines, keeping close track of account balances through good record-keeping and utilizing online banking services, and finding a checking account that suits your lifestyle. Top of page