What are Senior Checking Accounts?

While some dread the idea of growing older, others are excited about the idea of aging — gracefully so — and look forward to the rewards they will receive upon reaching retirement age. There’s no doubt that whether you’re taking advantage of senior discounts at restaurants, or enjoying a low-cost movie, being a senior citizen has its financial perks.

But recent reports show that these perks aren’t always offered from banks. In fact, a recent study has found that senior checking accounts may not be beneficial at all.

Elderly Short-Changed With Senior Checking Accounts

Most senior checking accounts are not providing the same benefits seniors receive when taking part in other senior-based programs. In fact, a report released in August by the Pew Charitable Trusts reveals that many elderly customers are forced to pay more for comparable accounts.

In the report, Still Risky: An Update on the Safety and Transparency of Checking Accounts, the Pew Safe Checking in the Electronic Age Project took a look at checking accounts offered by the 12 largest U.S. banks and 12 largest credit unions.

Of the financial institutions in the study, five of them (four banks and one credit union) offered special checking accounts that were tailored for seniors. Simple senior checking accounts were found to be very similar to basic checking accounts at these institutions. But in some cases, seniors were actually being charged more for their senior-specific checking features.

According to the study, one of the biggest charges came from monthly checking account fees. The average basic checking account charged $12 per month when anywhere from $0 to $1,500 was maintained in a checking account. On the other hand, a senior checking account charged $25 per month for maintaining this amount in their account.

In fact, it took a balance of $5,000 for seniors to avoid paying a monthly service fees in most senior accounts. The dollar amount to avoid a monthly fee in the basic accounts? $1,500. That’s quite a difference.

AARP Education and Outreach Senior Project Manager, Sally Hurme, recommends that seniors seek out the best offers before opening a senior checking account.

“Wise consumers should shop around and compare senior accounts,” says Hurme. “Make sure your package is better than the one down the street.”

You may be wondering where exactly the perks are for seniors who acquire a senior checking account. Special features like earning interest on their accounts, as well as waivers of other fees are what entice seniors into taking on this type of checking account. But if seniors don’t take advantage of these perks, they are simply left with the responsibility of maintaining up to $5,000 in their accounts to avoid fees.

Bottom line - make sure you do your due diligence before opening a senior checking account. If you do want to open a senior checking account, make sure you are getting a better deal on the senior checking account than a standard checking account!

KeyBank Checking Bonus - Free iPod Touch Promotion

KeyBank has a new checking account promotion with an iPod touch bonus. This offer is only available online to certain areas.

Here are the requirements to qualify for the iPod touch gift:

  • Open a qualifying KeyBank checking account online and enter offer code ONTT0311 by June 24, 2011
  • Make at least 10 payments and/or purchases per month for 3 months after account opening
  • Make 3 direct deposits each of $500 or more within 3 months of account opening

The comparison chart tab in the promotions page shows the qualifying checking accounts. All have potential monthly service charges. The account that is easiest to avoid monthly fees is Key Express Checking. You can avoid fees by making at least $500 in deposits or initiating five transactions per statement cycle.

Here's the small print from the offer:

Limit one gift per qualifying account. Limit one gift per individual. The value of your gift will be reported on Form 1099-INT. Your gift will be shipped within 90 days of meeting requirements. Qualifying purchase and payment transactions include checks, MasterCard signature, PayPass and PIN-based purchases, Key Bill Pay, debit card automated payments, PayPal transactions, and Automated Clearing House (ACH) direct payments. Direct deposit transactions are limited to payroll, Social Security, pension, and government benefits. Offer available to individuals without an existing checking account at KeyBank as of 3/25/11. Offer not available to individuals who have opened a KeyBank checking account in the last 12 months.

There are some additional details in the promotion's FAQs.  If you close your account within 180 days of account opening, you will be charged a $25.00 account early closure fee.

When you apply online, you have to enter your zip code. Not all zip codes are accepted. Like previous KeyBank promos, it appears to be only available in areas where they have branches. KeyBank branches are located in the following states: Alaska, Colorado, Connecticut, Idaho, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Utah, Vermont, and Washington.

The offer expires on June 24, 2011. Visit the promotions page for more information.


Latest Chase Bank $125 Checking Account Bonus

Chase is offering a $125 bonus for opening a checking account. You can have a coupon emailed to you that can be used to open a Chase checking account or can apply online.

Details of the bank offer include:

  • Minimum opening deposit of $100 with money from non-Chase banks
  • Must set up direct deposit
  • Free online banking and bill pay
  • Free access to over 16,000 Chase ATMs in the U.S.
  • Free text and email alerts
  • 24-hour access with Chase Mobile on your phone
  • To avoid a monthly service fee you must have at least one direct deposit of at least $500, keep a minimum daily balance of at least $1,500 or keep an average balance of at least $5,000 in qualifying accounts at Chase
  • Requirements to earn the $125 bonus include making a direct deposit within 60 days of the account being opened
  • The bonus would be posted to your account within 10 business days of the initial direct deposit
  • If the account is closed within six months, the bonus will be debited

Current Chase checking customers and employees of JPMorgan Chase Bank are not eligible for the bonus offer.

The Total Checking Account offer is good through May 16, 2011.

Carthage Savings & Loan Checking

Carthage Savings and Loan Association has a High Interest Checking Account that earns 2.05 percent annual percentage yield (APY) on balances between $2,500 and $25,000.

This checking account features:

  • $25 minimum to open
  • Free nationwide ATMs
  • Unlimited check writing
  • Free checks
  • $8 monthly fee, waived if daily balance is over $2500
  • Free MasterMoney check card
  • Free online banking with bill pay
  • Free electronic statements
  • Direct deposit
  • 10 cents for each signature based debit card transaction

The checking account also has tiered interest rates.

Carthage Savings and Loan also has other checking and savings accounts with various rates of interest. For instance, you can open a 36-month certificate of deposit that earns 1.5 percent APY or a 48-month CD that earns 1.7 percent APY.

Carthage Savings and Loan is based in Carthage, N.Y. The savings and loan has been in business since 1888 and serves Jefferson and Lewis counties in New York. You can open an account at its three locations or apply for an account online. A representative will call you to complete the application process.

What Happened to Free Checking Accounts?

Some of the biggest banks in the world will remind consumers that every action indeed does have a reaction in 2011. In late July 2010, President Obama signed new bank regulation laws limiting when and how financial institutions can charge customers for services like overdraft transactions and ATM withdrawals. Ironically, these changes, which were designed to protect consumers from exorbitant fees, have left banks tasked with identifying new ways to make money. Based on the latest moves by some of the country's largest banks, it could mean the final death of free checking.

In July, Wells Fargo (WFC) announced that it would no longer offer free checking, now charging new "Value Checking" customers $5 a month unless they make a $250 monthly deposit or maintain a minimum $1,500 balance in the account. Likewise, Fifth Third Bank (FITB) stopped offering any free checking options to new customers, unless a direct deposit or automatic savings plan feature is utilized.

And while meeting certain requirements to avoid fees is not necessarily new, the hurdles are certainly getting higher.

Beginning February 8, JPMorgan Chase (JPM) customers with a "Chase Checking" will need at least one direct deposit of $500 a month, or will need to make five debit card transactions per statement period, in order for the monthly service fee ($6) to be waived. The direct deposit amount was not stipulated previously.

Chase customers with grandfathered Washington Mutual accounts will be hit with even bigger fees as they transition into "Chase Total Checking." This account carries a $12 monthly service fee if the account lacks a monthly direct deposit of at least $500, has a monthly balance lower than $1,500, does not have a $5,000 average daily balance in other Chase deposit or investment accounts, or the customer has not paid at least $25 for other Chase checking-related services in the month.

The changes to direct deposit minimums will have the most impact on those who do not work traditional full-time jobs, and the unemployed. Social Security recipients will have direct deposit amounts exceeding the minimum, according to the Social Security Administration Primary Insurance Amount formula used to calculate benefit amounts.

Bank of America (BAC) began a test initiative in Massachusetts, Georgia, and Arizona in January 2011, paving the way for national roll-out by year end that will attach monthly fees ranging from $8.95 to $25 to existing checking accounts, based on the product.

To avoid the fees, customers must meet criteria like maintaining a stated balance or using a Bank of America credit card at least once a month.

Bank of America did launch a new free checking product in August -- but only if a customer banks solely online and uses the ATM for deposit and withdrawal transactions. Otherwise, the account carries an $8.95 monthly fee.

The banks maintain that the move is less about fees and more about moving from a product- to relationship-based industry, echoing a paradigm shift seen in the last several years, as many financial institutions offer customers better rates or discounts, in exchange for a deeper banking relationship.

In light of the changes, online consumer groups have mobilized, calling for a boycott of big banks. But, it's also important to note that plenty of major online banks like HSBC (HBC) and ING (ING), regional institutions, and credit unions offer checking accounts without all the hurdles big banks are moving toward. But whether other banks follow their lead eventually might really lie in the actions of the consumers (or whether they take any action at all). In October, Bankrate's 2010 checking study found that consumers spend up to $620 a year on fees that are completely avoidable, like overdraft and ATM use.

Union Bank $100 Checking Account Bonus

Union Bank is offering a $100 bank bonus when you open a checking account by 1/28/11. To qualify for the $100, a personal checking account must be opened by January 28, 2011, and you must either sign up for direct deposit, make three online bill payments or make five debit card purchases.

To qualify for the $100 bonus, open a Union Bank personal checking account by 1/28/11 and establish one qualifying service, no later than the month after account opening. Qualifying services include an ongoing monthly direct deposit of $100 or more, three Union Bank online bill payments each month to three different payees, OR five debit card purchases or payments per month (excluding cash withdrawals, transfers, or ATM inquiries). Minimum opening deposit $100. The $100 bonus will be deposited by 4/29/11 into the personal checking account, which must be active and in good standing. Limit one offer per household. Not valid with other offers. Available for personal accounts only and for customers who do not have an existing personal checking account. Bonuses are reported as interest paid and a Form 1099-INT will be sent for tax purposes by 2/15/12. Offer valid only at participating branches.

Visit Union Bank's promotional page for more details.

What Happened to Chase Free Checking?

When WaMu was first acquired by Chase Bank, the free checking account was converted into Chase Free Extra Checking account, with no minimums, and completely free checking. However, it seems that this is changing now - the account is now called "Chase Total Checking."

Chase Total Checking the following to avoid a $25 monthly fee:


  • Direct deposit of at least $500
  • $1500 in the account on average
  • $5000 across all linked accounts

It's interesting that Chase is converting these accounts into Chase Total Checking instead of Chase Checking which makes it easier to avoid monthly fees (can be done with 5 debit card purchases). Also, it has a smaller monthly fee of only $6.

Berkshire Bank $100 In Checking Bonuses

Open a free checking account at Berkshire Bank and you can earn up to $100 in bonuses. The deal is good through Oct. 31, 2010. You can complete up to four of the following tasks and receive $25 for each one:

  • Sign up for online statements
  • Set up and receive direct deposit
  • Pay a bill with online bill pay
  • Turn in your old debit card and replace it with a Berkshire Bank debit card
  • Refer a friend who opens a free checking account (up to two referrals)

You can open a Berkshire Bank checking account with as little as $10. Bring in your old checks and you receive a free box of checks for your new account. Another perk includes receiving a discount of 0.25% on consumer loans when you set up automatic payment from your Berkshire Bank checking account. (You must qualify for a loan to receive the discounted bank rate.) You can also receive $10 off the annual fee for opening a safe deposit box.

Berkshire Bank is based in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. The checking account offer is valid only for new checking customers at the bank’s New York branches and can be withdrawn at any time.

ING Direct Electric Orange Checking Bonus

Open an Electric Orange checking account at ING Direct and you could earn a $50 bonus. You’ll need to use reference code EM522 when you open your account online.

To earn the bonus you must activate an Electric Orange Debit MasterCard and make three purchases signature-based purchases with it within 45 days. The $50 bonus gets credited to your account on day $50. Other details of the checking account include:

  • No minimum balance requirement
  • No monthly fees
  • Free transactions at 35,000 ATMs
  • 1.25% annual percentage yield (APY) on balances over $100,000
  • 1.2% APY on balances between $50,000 and $100,000
  • 0.25% APY on balances under $50,000

If you are tired of getting hit with high overdraft fees you might like this account. The average that most banks charge for overdrafts on checking accounts is $30. The Electric Orange bank rate for overdrafts is 2 cents a day on an overdraft balance of $100. So if you overdraw your checking account by $500, you’ll pay an overdraft fee of 99 cents.

ING Direct online bank accounts are insured by the FDIC.

BB&T $100 Cash Bonus

BB&T Bank is offering a $100 Cash Bonus to new account holders that open a new personal checking account before 6/6/2010. The promotional code for this offer is AFJAP.

In order to qualify for this bank deal, you must complete the following:

  • Open a free BB&T checking account
  • Set up direct deposit and receive 2 recurring direct deposits, minimum $10 each, to the new checking account within 90 days of account opening
  • OR make 3 online bill payments, minimum $10 per payment using your new checking account within 60 days of account opening.

The BB&T Free Checking account features:

  • No minimum balance or monthly maintenance fees
  • Free BB&T check card
  • Free mobile banking
  • Free online banking with billpay
  • Open online instantly

The $100 bank bonus will be deposited directly into your account within 4 weeks of meeting the above requirements. For more information, please visit the BB&T bank bonus promotional page.

BB&T Bank is FDIC insured.