'Free' Checking with No Strings Attached?

Tired of paying your bank for checking or maintaining a sizeble balance in order to have the monthly fee waived? You might want to check out what's available from a credit union.

Seventy-two percent of America's 50 largest credit unions offer standalone free checking - with no strings attached - according to the 2013 Credit Union Checking Survey by Bankrate.com released Monday. Only 39 percent of the nation's banks offer such standalone free checking, the website reported last September.

"While free checking has been in sharp decline at banks in recent years, it remains the rule rather than the exception at credit unions," noted Greg McBride, Bankrate's senior financial analyst. 

The website's surveys show that since 2010, the availability of standalone free checking dropped from 78 to 72 percent at credit unions and plunged from 65 to 39 percent at banks.

Switching financial institutions is a hassle, but it can be done if you have a plan. To get started, find the banks (FindABetterBank.com) and credit unions (MyCreditUnion.gov) in your area. Consumer Reports has prepared a tip sheet on how to move your money safely and effectively.

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