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NerdWallet’s Top 10 Alternatives to SunTrust Bank

by on June 8, 2012

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One big bank raises their fees, and the rest follow suit. Not to be outdone by Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Citibank and others, SunTrust Bank announced Thursday that they’ll be raising the minimum balance requirement for the Everyday Checking account from $500 to $1,500. If you can’t keep your balance up, you’ll have to pay a $7 monthly service fee. As if that wasn’t inconvenient enough, SunTrust is also raising their overdraft fee from $25 to $36. Granted, that $25 fee only applied to your first overdraft, not subsequent ones, but still, that’s kind of like saying, “If you don’t have any money, be prepared to pay up!” That hardly seems fair.

It’s time to move your money

If you have an account with SunTrust, you have three choices. You can pay the fee, scramble to find an extra $1,000 before the changes go into effect (August 24th), or move your money to checking account that doesn’t have balance requirements or monthly fees at all. It’s time to invest your money where it belongs: your local credit union. We keep saying it because it’s true. Here are NerdWallet’s top picks for checking accounts at credit unions in the Southern United States, SunTrust’s primary market. All of these accounts are free, meaning no minimun balance requirement and no monthly fees. Some offer extra perks like debit card rewards, interest, or optional inexpensive overdraft protection. Did we mention that credit unions usually have the best customer service too? It’s time to get yourself some of that Southern hospitality you folks are known for.

121 Financial Credit Union (Jacksonville, FL) – Totally Free Checking

Formally known as Florida Telco, 121 Financial Credit Union has 8 branches in Jacksonville, 1 mini branch for Swisher employees, and 2 additional branches opening soon. The Totally Free Checking account comes with one free box of checks every year and 6 free withdrawals at all non-121 ATMs every month. No wonder their free checking account is “one of the most popular services they offer”. 121′s EcoChecking account is also a good, free option. This paperless account comes with discounted access to 121′s Benefits Plus discount and identity protection program. Credit union membership is available to people who work, live or attend school in the Florida counties of Duval, Clay, St. Johns, Nassau, Baker, Columbia, Union, Bradford, Alachua, Putnam, and Flagler. Membership is also available to current and former employees of telecommunications companies, and immediate family of eligible members.

First Commerce Credit Union (Tallahassee, FL) – Free Checking

First Commerce Credit Union has 8 branch locations in Tallahassee and Marianna. Their Free Checking account comes with a free box of checks when you open it online. If you’d like to earn interest, check out their iEarn Checking account. You’ll need $1,000 to open it, and there’s no minimum balance after that. However, if you can keep your $1,000 balance, you’ll earn 0.25% APY, and be eligible for foreign ATM refunds and a discounted safety deposit box. Membership is open to residents and businesses in following counties: Leon, Wakulla, Gadsden, Jefferson, Madison, Liberty, Jackson, Taylor, Calhoun, Washington, Walton and Holmes Counties in Florida, and Thomas County, Georgia. Select employee groups may also join: see their membership page for complete details.

US Community Credit Union (Nashville, TN) – It’s On US Checking

US Community Credit Union has 5 branches in the Nashville area. Their It’s On US account comes with everything you need in a free account: a debit card, e-statements, online banking and unlimited check writing. If you’re able to keep your account even more active, check out the Six Star Checking account, which earns 1.50% APY. To qualify, you’ll need to set up direct deposit, regularly log into online banking, and perform 10 or more signature-based debit card transactions each month. Credit union membership is open to anyone who lives, works, worships or attends any school in Davidson, Rutherford, Sumner, Williamson, or Wilson Counties.

City Employees Credit Union (Knoxville, TN) – Free Checking

City Employees Credit Union has 4 locations in Knoxville. Their Free Checking account is not only free, but all balances earn interest, and seniors (55 or better) will get a free box of checks every year. If your checking account balance is ever in danger of going into overdraft, their system can withdraw the needed funds from your savings account or line of credit balance if you’ve got one set up. People who live, work, worship, or attend school within Knox, Union, Blount, Anderson, or Loudon Counties automatically qualify for membership. Members of select employee groups and family of eligible members may also join. Please see their membership page for complete details.

Carolina Postal Credit Union (Charlotte, NC) – CPCU Checking

Carolina Postal Credit Union has 5 branches in Charlotte, Winston-Salem, Hickory, Greensboro and High Point. Their CPCU Checking account not only pays dividends, but also offers cash back rewards on your debit card purchases with the “Dime Every Time” program. Use your debit card to make 12 signature-based transactions every month, and you’ll start earning 10 cents for each additional signature-based transaction every month. No need to enroll; it’s just a nice perk when you qualify. Credit union membership is open to anyone who lives, works, worships or attends school in Catawba County, plus all United States postal employees that work or reside in North Carolina. Many other people qualify; please see their membership page for complete details.

Bank-Fund Staff Federal Credit Union (Washington, D.C.) – Checking

Bank-Fund Staff Federal Credit Union has 3 branches in Downtown D.C., plus a full-service lending center. Their Checking account is so simple that is doesn’t even have a fancy name. In addition to online and mobile banking, this account also comes with free SafetyLink Overdraft protection. This optional service allows you to transfer funds from your savings account up to 6 times each month to cover your checking account balance shortfalls. Membership is open to employees and retirees of the World Bank Group International Monetary Fund, World Bank Children’s Center and Bretton Woods Recreation Center, plus children and family of eligible members. Members of certain organizations may also join: contact the credit union directly for details.

SECU (Baltimore, MD) – Standard Checking

One of the biggest credit unions in Maryland, SECU has 19 branches in Baltimore, Annapolis, Salisbury, Columbia and beyond. Their Standard Checking account comes with free online and mobile banking, mobile deposit, online bill pay, and even discounted rates on your loans when you opt for automatic payment. You also get surcharge-free access to 68,000 Allpoint and CO-OP ATMs. If you’re a college student 25 or younger, be sure to sign up for their Students’ Choice Interest Checking account instead for all the same benefits plus interest. Many state and school employees qualify for membership. Other companies and organizations qualify, too: see their membership requirements page for complete details. Update July 18th: this account is free for students and seniors.

CPM Federal Credit Union (North Charleston, SC) – Emerald Checking

CPM Federal Credit Union has 15 branches in and around Charleston, Columbia, Port Royal and Orangeburg, with extended hours on Friday evenings (open until 7 p.m.) and Saturday mornings (8 a.m. – 12 p.m.). Their Emerald Checking account comes with 3 free boxes of checks per year, as well as automatic overdraft protection from your savings account if you choose to sign up for it. If you can afford a $200 minimum balance, the Rewards Checking account offers all this plus interest and debit rewards. CPM is now part of the credit union Shared Branching network, which gives you access to over 4,500 credit union service centers for your banking needs, and the COOP ATM network, which gives you access to over 28,000 surcharge-free ATMs nationwide. Membership is open to people who live, work, worship or attend school in Orangeburg, Calhoun and Charleston counties, and members of the SC Firefighters’ Association. You may also qualify for membership in other ways: see their Open an Account page for complete details.

Apple Federal Credit Union (Fairfax, VA) – Free A+ Checking

Apple Federal Credit Union has 21 locations throughout Northern Virginia. Their Free A+ Checking account comes with a free box of checks, free online and mobile banking, text banking, and iPad, iPhone and Android apps. It also comes with a free Visa check card,  free eBill Payer and eStatements, unlimited check writing and access to more than 53,000 surcharge-free ATMs nationwide. If you’re a student, be sure to check out the eXtras Student Checking account, which offers all of the same benefits plus rewards points for every dollar you spend with your debit card. Membership is open to faculty, staff and students of many local schools and universities throughout Northern Virginia, their family members, and anyone who lives, works, worships, volunteers or attends school in Prince William County, Manassas City or Manassas Park. Employees of select employment groups also qualify. Please see their membership eligibility page for complete details.

Northwest Georgia Credit Union (Rome, GA) – Unbelievable Checking

Northwest Georgia Credit Union is a true community credit union with 2 branch offices in Rome and 4 local ATMs. Their Unbelievable Checking account is, as they put it, “simple, convenient, and worry free”. Besides the basics, it also comes with free online banking and bill pay, and eStatements with check images. Headed out of town? You’ll still be able to access 28,000 free ATMs through the CO-OP credit union shared branching network. Membership is open to residents of Floyd County and employees of sponsor employee groups. If you don’t qualify automatically, contact a staff member. They’re happy to speak with your employer or organization on your behalf to get you in.

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