You can't live conveniently without a checking account. But new regulations and the low interest rate environment have made checking and savings accounts little more than a safer place to keep your money than under a mattress. Even worse, banks now charge customers for basic services that used to be free (for details, see Changes To Your Checking Account).

Unless you’re one of their premier customers.

Each of the mega-banks, as well as many regional banks, have what most call premium checking accounts. These accounts cater to higher net worth customers with perks that other customers don’t get. Here are the four top sources of premium accounts and what they offer.

Bank of America

If you’re a Bank of America customer and you maintain an average daily balance of $20,000 or more, you have access to its Premium Solution checking account. You won’t find much about this account on the bank’s website, but it has advantages if you want multiple interest-bearing checking accounts to segregate funds and you plan to keep investment accounts. If you use Merrill Lynch for your investment accounts and use the bank for your lending needs you’ll garner added benefits.

Other than the special rates you receive on other bank services, many of the fees that come with one of BOA's traditional checking accounts are waived. You won’t pay for check images, replacing your card, stopping payment on a check, cashier’s checks or wire transfers.

Keep your balance above the minimum $20,000 or you’ll pay a $25 monthly fee. You can reach that amount through your checking and savings accounts and/or "eligible linked Merrill Lynch or Merrill Edge investment accounts" or link a Bank of America first mortgage that BOA services.

Chase

Chase is more forthcoming about its premium options. It offers two premium accounts along with its basic checking account options. The Premier Plus checking doesn’t charge a fee at non-Chase ATMs up to four times per statement period, the account earns interest and, like Bank of America, fees for money orders, cashier’s checks and travelers checks are waived. You can also link two other Premier Plus accounts to your account.

You have to maintain an average daily balance of $15,000 in linked deposits/investments or make automatic payments to your Chase first mortgage to avoid the $25 monthly fee (in all states).

Chase also has its Premier Platinum checking account. It has all of the same features as the Premier Plus, but adds more free services: You can link as many as nine accounts and you receive priority customer service over the phone. However, you’re going to need an average daily balance of at least $75,000 to avoid the fee, which is $25 per month ($35 in Connecticut, New Jersey and New York). You can link deposits and investments, but not mortgage payments, to qualify.

Citibank

Citibank’s version of the premium checking account is called Citigold. The Citigold account not only pays interest like all other premium checking accounts, but you also can enroll your account in the Citi ThankYou Rewards program and earn rewards points "for eligible products and services linked to your checking account." This makes the account even more attractive. You will need $50,000 in eligible deposits and retirement balances or $100,000 in eligible retirement balances, linked deposits and investments to avoid the $30 fee.

Like the others, Citi offers many free services that other account holders have to pay for, along with access to a dedicated customer service team.

Wells Fargo

Wells Fargo has the Premier Relationship account. This account comes with plenty of perks and free services including higher interest rates, a dedicated support staff and additional Wells Fargo credit card benefits including special purchase and travel protection coverage.

Here's what you will need to keep at Wells Fargo to avoid the $30 monthly fee. You must have a minimum of $25,000 in qualifying linked bank deposit accounts (checking, savings, CDs, FDIC-insured IRAs) – or $50,000 in any combination of qualifying linked banking, brokerage (available through Wells Fargo Advisors, LLC) and credit balances (including 10% of mortgage balances, with certain mortgages not eligible).

The Bottom Line

The variations among these banks are minimal. Providing you meet the balance requirements to avoid the monthly fee, you may find that Citi, with its rewards structure, offers the best deal. On the other hand, Chase's Premier Plus offers the lowest minimum balance requirement, though fewer benefits than some of these accounts, including Chases's own Premier Platinum.

If you’re already well established at a bank, the differences probably won’t make it worth the trouble of switching. For more information, see How To Break Up With Your Bank.

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