ones, according to a national survey released Thursday. The average consumer pays nearly $28 more for checking accounts at big banks, the U.S. Public Interest Research Group concluded after looking at 419 banks in 29 states and the District of Columbia. The gap has widened by more than $10 since 1995. In the last two years, fees on the average checking account at big banks rose 3%, to $218.27, but dropped almost 2%, to $190.33, at small banks, according to the survey. Big banks require average minimum balances of $642 to avoid checking account fees, up 14% since 1995, the survey found. In the same period, small banks cut their average minimum balance requirements 11%, to $492. The survey found similar disparities in fees for savings accounts and interest-bearing checking accounts. "Big banks should pass out the benefits of size to consumers instead of punishing them with higher fees," said Ed Mierzwinski, consumer program director at the research group. "Bigger should mean cheaper." The survey is "flawed" and sells consumers short, responded John L. Hall, a spokesman at the American Bankers Association. "Most of these fees mentioned in their survey are easily avoidable," and many consumers place convenience ahead of lowest price, he said.

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