At $2.20 a pop, the Twin Cities has the lowest average ATM surcharge in the nation.

A new report out Monday found that ATM operators in the metro area charge 30 cents less than the national average of $2.50 for people other than their own customers to use their machines.

The national average, a record, rose 4 percentage points from 2011, according to's 15th annual checking survey. It's the eighth consecutive year the average has increased. The Denver area posted the highest average at $2.80, even higher than New York's $2.70.

Nicking away at "free checking" and making it more expensive for customers to use their own money has been a favored strategy for lenders trying to recoup losses from increased financial regulation, weak loan demand and low interest rates.

The average monthly maintenance fee for a non-interest-bearing checking account rose to a record $5.48, up 25 percent from 2011, according to the survey. The average balance required on non-interest-bearing accounts to avoid that fee is a record $723, up 23 percent.

Greg McBride, Bankrate .com's senior financial analyst, said the results indicate a continuation of existing trends.

A bright spot, he said, is that more lenders will now waive checking account fees for their more engaged customers, such as those doing direct deposit or doing other business with the lender.

"For people that are intent on finding free checking, it's well within reach," he said. "The takeaway for consumers is no matter how high these fees go, we're not hostage. Every one of them remains completely avoidable."

Wayzata-based TCF Financial Corp. made headlines in June when it announced that it was ditching the last of the requirements its customers had to meet to escape its monthly maintenance fee on checking accounts, killing that fee altogether.

According to the Bankrate survey, only 39 percent of non-interest checking accounts surveyed are free with no strings attached, down from 45 percent in 2011.

One of the most despised fees, the fee for overdrawing your account, is also rising. The average overdraft fee rose to a record of $31.26, up about 1.4 percent.

The basic ATM surcharge isn't the only lurking ATM fee. Many banks also charge their own customers for using another company's ATM, the survey noted, and that fee rose 11 percent to $1.57.

The survey doesn't detail specific company practices. Some top local banks, however, report ATM surcharges significantly higher than the $2.20 metro area average for the Twin Cities.

In an interview, a TCF spokesman said its ATM surcharge for non-customers is $3, and that TCF also charges its own customers $3 if they use a non-TCF machine. Students are charged $2.

Minneapolis-based U.S. Bancorp said its ATM surcharge for non-customers outside the MoneyPass network averages about $2.50. The bank charges its own customers between zero and $2.50, depending on the type of account they have, if they use a non- U.S. Bank machine.

San Francisco-based Wells Fargo & Co. said its ATM surcharge is $3, and that it charges its customers $2.50 for using another financial institution's machine.

Jennifer Bjorhus • 612-673-4683