Riggs National Bank, the largest in the District of Columbia, said it has introduced a no-frills checking account designed for low-income customers who do not write a large number of checks every month.
The account, which the bank calls its Basic Banking Account, requires a $50 opening deposit but after that has no minimum monthly balance. There are no service charges, and the customer can write eight checks a month free of charge. Riggs will charge $1 for each additional check.
Riggs is the first bank in the city to offer what commonly are called "lifeline" accounts, although other banks such as NS&T have said they are considering introducing similar accounts.
Banking charges have risen dramatically in recent years, mainly as a result of the lifting of ceilings on interest rates banks pay for deposits, bankers say. Because their cost of funds has risen, banks say, they no longer can subsidize small-balance checking accounts.
But critics complain that charges are too high for many low-income customers who need checking services but cannot afford to keep the minimum balances banks often require for "free" checking accounts or to pay the monthly service charges banks levy when balances fall below the minimum balance.
They have called for banks to create no-frills checking accounts like the one Riggs began to offer last Friday.