TD Bank uses the carrot, while others use the stick

Closeup of quarter

Just because the sun has set on absolutely, positively free checking at major U.S. banks doesn't mean we'll all be herded into the $12 minimum fee club.

In fact, one of the 10 largest banks in the country, TD Bank, has nearly held the line with its philosophy that old-fashioned service will ultimately attract more new friends to help it survive the constricted profit margins of the post-financial reform landscape.

Rather than resort to the whip (higher fees, fewer services, locking the lobby doors, etc.), TD Bank approached its checking account makeover with carrots in mind, such as $1 off your monthly bill for choosing online statements, across this entire account class.

Sure, it's only a buck. But when was the last time your bank gave you a buck for something that didn't put three in their vault?

For its rock-bottom, no-frills TD Simple checking, you'll pay $2.99 a month ($3.99 with paper statements) for what may be one of the most robust bare-bones accounts among the majors. There's no minimum balance (what?!) and free debit card, ATM access and online banking and bill pay. You can even bank at your nearest branch for free!

What I like about TD's approach to belt-tightening is, they didn't merely scramble the game board and rebrand everything in a lame attempt to slip new bank fees past us. In fact, they had the good sense to leave some accounts alone, such as the Convenience account.

If you're willing to park a Benjamin in your Convenience checking account, you can waive the $15 monthly fee entirely, and voile, almost-free checking for a $100 deposit. That trick will cost you $500 at Chase, $1,500 at Bank of America.

Perhaps the best news about TD's offering: the $12 minimum fee set by some of the majors already appears vulnerable to competition.

Could it be that free markets may one day work in our favor?

We'll see.

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