Bank of America embraces evil, eliminates free checking: what it means for freelancers

Bank of America has been a sort of begrudged necessity for freelancers for a long time. On the plus side, there is the ability to cash checks by phone and many locations and ATMs around the U.S. In return you get the banking equivalent of a budget airline. Want to speak to someone in person? Good luck. Want interest on your account? LOL. Need to withdraw from somebody else’s ATM? That will be $2.50. Mistimed a payment (maybe because it took three days for your last deposit to clear), causing an overdraft? That will be $35. But B of A hangs in there with the freelance crowd because it’s ubiquitous and, up until now, they’ve had a free checking account option.

That is no more, the bank has announced. Not unless you can meet two requirements: Maintain a minimum daily balance of $1,500 in your account, or have a monthly direct deposit into the account of $250 or more.

These may not be onerous requirements for traditional workers, most of whom have gone to direct deposit. But many freelancers may have trouble avoiding the $12 monthly fee. If you accept payment in checks (a nightmare in its own right but, again, a necessity for some), or have months when you don’t get paid at all (common for some who work on a few large-scale projects a year), you’re probably not hitting that $250 direct deposit hurdle. Keeping $1,500 in your checking account at all times is pretty tough when your income and expenses vary from month to month.

So it might finally be time for freelancers who have been relying on Bank of America for free checking to look for other options. My first suggestion? Look local. Local banks and credit unions, who don’t have public shareholders breathing down their necks at every decision, might have more attractive options, plus the level of service you’ll receive should you need it will be orders of magnitude higher than any national company. For military members and veterans and their families, it’s very worth exploring USAA. Their banking is 100% online, and they offer perks like covering ATM fees.

Even if you’re happy with your bank right now, it might be a good opportunity to look around and see what else is out there. Technology has improved so much in the past few years that smaller banks are starting to catch up with the big players in terms of online banking and mobile deposit. Just remember that it’s your money, and if the company you’ve entrusted it to isn’t giving you service that meets your needs, there will always be someone else who is more than willing to hold onto it.