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PNC latest to eliminate free personal checking

Another big bank has moved to eliminate free checking with no strings attached. This time PNC Financial Services Group says it will do away with free checking and offer a new standard checking account that requires customers to maintain minimum balances to avoid paying fees.

Most major regional banks have made similar moves, including Cincinnati-based Fifth Third, Cleveland-based KeyCorp, JPMorgan Chase & Co. and U.S. Bancorp.

Starting Monday through July 9, Pittsburgh, Penn.-based PNC is notifying customers of checking account changes, PNC spokeswoman Marcey Zwiebel said. The free checking account will be phased out in 12 months. Two new accounts will be offered this year — Standard Checking and Virtual Wallet with Performance Select, Zwiebel said.

With the exception of foundation checking, every account will have a minimum balance requirement and other requirements to keep the account free, she said.

“For current customers, the impact will be minimal,” Zwiebel said in an emailed statement.

Nine out of 10 customers currently have balances that exceed the minimums. PNC wants to encourage more customers to make the company their primary bank with increased deposits and other services such as loans, credit cards and investments, she said.

“This is part of our long-term strategy to remain financially strong and invest more in technology and the services that enable customers to bank when and where they want,” Zwiebel said in the provided statement.

Ron Cloyd, Dayton community bank president for Huntington Bancshares, said, “They’re joining the vast majority of the rest of the industry.”

Huntington introduced in late 2010 a strategy that includes a 24-hour grace period for overdrafts and “ asterisk-free” checking. The Columbus-based bank plans to stick to its strategy and continue offering free personal checking.

Based on Huntington’s market research, “consumers say loud and clear they want free checking,” Cloyd said. “As long as we’re effective in meeting with the clients and diving into other needs they have….it’s a sustainable strategy.”

PNC is the third largest bank in each the Cincinnati, Dayton and Springfield metropolitans by deposits, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

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