Why would anybody pay to simply *have* a bank account?

Rather than risk hijacking the Wells Fargo thread, I thought I’d start my own. bump said this:

I’ve really decided that I must have the best bank in the USA. We have Wells Fargo, and many other “national” banks here, but I bank with a small, local bank that has something like six branches. It’s been operating successfully for decades. I’ve personally been with them for more than 20 years, and know people who have been with them for decades longer.

My checking account is free, and I get free checks (though I never use them any more). The only fees I’ve ever seen are the occasional overdraft fee when I goof. And even if I have an overdraft, my bank goes ahead and honors the check or online payment (in the case of online payments, I’m talking about automatic payments I have set up for my car/rental insurance and my internet; if I’m trying to purchase something online without sufficient funds, my debit card is simply declined). They don’t have to do that.

From time to time, I see notices posted at my branch that mention some kind of fee that some other bank(s) are charging, reassuring me and their other customers that they have never charged such a fee, and will not be doing so.

So I honestly can’t see why people would open an account at a bank that charges them for the privilege. Do they just live some place where they literally have no other options?

A lot depends on exactly what you’re looking for in a bank.

For example, my primary checking account is at a small local institution that has practically no fees, like your bank.

On the other hand, their hours are quite limited, and certainly no evening or Sunday services. Their online banking is, um, basic (seriously, I can’t even see my balance and a list of transactions on the same screen?!!); they don’t offer text messages or alerts of any kind, or any mobile app; they don’t offer much in the way of investment products beyond passbook savings and CDs; they don’t do mortgage lending, or indeed much of any lending beyond autos, boats, and signature loans. For what I need at this point in my life, it’s okay, but if I needed more out of my bank/S&L/credit union, it might not be a good option. However, it is cheap.

Often, those sorts of fees are waived if you’re the profitable sort of customer: if you have a $$$$ minimum balance, or a high enough direct deposit wage, or you use a debit card that earns the bank transaction fees…

ETA: Straight from the Wells Fargo website, here are the (profitable to them) things that waive the fee:

My WAG is that piddly $5/month fees aren’t going to generate substantial revenue. Rather, they chase away small-time customers. No bank is going to make any money, at least in the short term, on some kid’s beer money account with a balance that never gets above $200.

Banks are in the business of making loans. Everything else is purely incidental.

So banks really want businesses, who if sensible run on other peoples’ money, and people who are seeking mortgages. To attract them they offer a variety of everyday services like checking and savings accounts, mostly in the hope and expectation that they will need loans in the future.

A bank like Wells Fargo will offer a far greater array of loans and business services than my small credit union. They also offer a huge variety of other services, from investments to bonds to trusts and estates, which my credit union doesn’t. All of those are aimed at those with large sums of money to put at the bank’s disposal. And all of those come with fees that make your checking account balance a laughable pittance by comparison.

You can ask why those banks have anything to do with people like you at all. The answer is that the truly elite banks don’t. You don’t have the minimum to walk in the door. Most commercial big banks like Wells Fargo do so for goodwill, getting their name seen in the community every day, and establishing connections, knowing that ordinary customers often turn into small businesses.

My son has an account at a relatively small local bank - it’s a subsidiary of a much larger bank but his bank itself has maybe 25 branches and probably 10 of them are in supermarkets.There are associated banks in a couple of other states, but nothing like nationwide coverage. No fee to have a checking account, he might pay for checks but he writes them so rarely it doesn’t make a difference. He doesn’t pay a fee when he uses his bank’s ATM’s - but he pays fees both to his bank and the other bank if he uses another bank’s ATM which he almost always has to do if he leaves the city. When he gets an actual check (like a birthday gift) , he has to go to a branch to deposit it.

I have accounts at a very large bank. I don’t pay monthly fees or fees to my bank for foreign ATMs because they get waived as long as I have a certain balance or have a specified number of direct deposits/automatic bill payments per month. When I travel, I am likely to be able to find a branch of my bank- and if not, it has ATMs in most 7-11s. My bank has useful online banking and a mobile app that allows me to take a picture of a check and deposit it over the phone.

If I did have to pay a fee, it would be $12/month. Which would probably be worth it for me because the alternative would be to make sure that I always carry more than enough cash when I’m going to be out of the city - because 5 foreign ATM withdrawals a month would cost me more than the $12 fee.

I recall something in the British news several years ago, where one of the newspapers opened an account with 100 pounds in several of the bigger banks in Britain; then waited to see how many months (not years, months) before it was all gone to fees.

Typical fees can run to $10/month or more in Canada. Get a load of the $30 a month account…

Of course, in Canada we have a limited number of choices for banks, unless you want to go the credit union route. But then, our banks don’t go under like America’s… so far. They live on to gouge in perpetuity.

IIRC one news commentator said, as revenue (interest rates) goes down, fees go up to compensate. The amount from fees - $100 to $300 a year per account - is not chump change.

I have a small business account with Wells Fargo. I haven’t paid a fee in years. I guess it’s because my average balance meets their requirements.


I wonder if the key to my small bank is that it’s privately owned, not corporate (AFAICT), and they’re simply content to remain small. They do mortgages, and came out of the mortgage crisis a few years ago smelling like a rose because they decided years earlier to not get in on that sub-prime action.

Actually, I think you made a typo in your list. You get free Wells Fargo checking with a minimum direct deposit of $500, not $5005. There’s a numbered link to a footnote that you might have accidentally copied.


I have a monthly direct deposit that exceeds the minimum, so I don’t pay any fees.

Because they’re offering you a service: the safe-keeping of your money and the management thereof. You’re free to keep your money under your mattress, but if you get robbed or your house burns down or floods or… you’ll lose your money.

hi I dont know! Think over it even more!

British banks are obliged to offer a ‘basic’ no-frills free bank account that allows people to have their wages/benefits paid in and to draw money out from ATMs. If you want any extras you need a minimum balance or a regular minimum income. This came about because hardly anyone gets paid in cash or by cheque any more.

Banks want customers. The schoolgirl who opens an account at 16 with £100 may go on to Uni and need a bank to handle her loans. Many of them offer free overdrafts to students to bridge the gap between paying rent and fees, and receiving loans and grants. the bank is playing a long game, assuming that a graduate will stick with the bank they know, once they start to earn real money and become profitable.

Some accounts charge a fee but offer perks. For instance, my current account provides travel insurance, mobile phone insurance, car breakdown cover and various other benefits. It also gives me cashback on household bills if I pay them by direct debit. The value of these perks to me comfortably exceeds the amount I pay.

The OP asked why anyone would pay to have a bank account. What kind of account wasn’t specified.

Once you have any kind of account, your foot is in the door, as you are now a customer. Even if you don’t use the account much, you will be treated better than a non-customer. That could be enough of an advantage that you would pay for it.

Or you just don’t know any better, didn’t shop around, and think that all accounts charge fees.

This, basically. They provide the service allowing me to use my money without having to carry it around and I pay for that service. Usually payment is made by letting them keep a portion of the profits derived by investing the money they manage.

“Free” checking accounts are just checking accounts paid for in a different way.


Many people are not too bright when it comes to finances. Worse yet are those who do not have bank accounts and pay a small fortune to get their checks cashed at those check cashing businesses.

Because the alternative can be more expensive - i.e. if you don’t have an account, every time you receive a check, you’d have to take it to a check-cashing service and pay a fee.

FWIW, they’ve liberalized that stuff for no-fees in the last 10 years or so; there used to be no outs for debit card transactions or direct deposits, etc… it was strictly based on minimum daily balance, which meant that most months, I didn’t pay fees, and others I did, depending on what sort of expenses that were out of the ordinary had happened that month. They also didn’t have a “campus debit” or “campus ATM” card back then either, so I had to pay fees in college and grad school.

Nowadays, my account doesn’t pay fees, because I have more than enough direct deposits and debit card transactions per month to avoid them.

Yep. One of the things I like about my bank is they have an app for my phone that lets me upload a check to my bank so I don’t have to take it there to be deposited.