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S&LS MAY BE BEST BET FOR CHEAP CHECKING

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If you're in the market for a new checking account, it might pay to make your first stop a savings and loan, according to Changing Times, the Kiplinger Magazine. In a survey of about 600 banks, S&Ls and credit unions, Pricing Strategy, published by Moebs Services in Wadsworth, Ill., found that S&Ls frequently offer the cheapest checking.

Interest-bearing (or NOW) accounts that charge a fee only when you fall below a certain balance were the best deal, earning customers 17 cents a month, on average. Among all institutions, NOW accounts were the least expensive. Thrifts tended to have lower minimum balance requirements and lower fees for falling below the balance.The costliest place to go for a checking account is a so-called market leader - a big bank, S&L or credit union with heavy influence in its area. Accounts at market leaders that charge a flat fee or per-check fee were the most expensive in the survey, costing the average customer $8.87 a month. Moebs says market leaders also tend to charge the most for overdrafts, check printing and other services - about 26 percent higher than the typical bank.