NEW YORK -- Citibank said Tuesday that it will increase ways that customers can qualify for free checking and preferred pricing -- including one that lets securities holdings at the bank be included in calculating minimum average balances.

The restructured core banking account becomes effective on Jan. 1, the bank said. Under its terms, New York customers are offered four new ways to qualify for no-charge checking and preferred pricing. The core banking account links all customer accounts -- checking, savings, and investments -- in a master account.

The minimum balance to qualify for free checking and special fees will be reduced to $2,000 in a no-interest checking account -- which Citibank said is the lowest for a linked money-management account in New York. The current minimum is $3,000.

Also eligible are customers who keep $6,000 in combined balances in traditional banking accounts and all IRAs, or $20,000 in combined balances of traditional banking accounts and securities holdings at Citibank.

Customers who do not meet the minimum average balance requirements will pay a monthly maintenance charge of $9.50 for regular checking or $12 for checking with interest, and a fee of 25 cents per transaction.

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