CANDICE CHOINEW YORK (AP) â¿¿ Free checking is alive and well â¿¿ at least at nation's largest credit unions. Of the top 50, there are 38 that still offer free checking accounts with no strings attached, according to a new survey by Bankrate, a site that lets consumers compare pricing on banking products. Even among the credit unions where customers have to pay for checking, nearly all offer ways to avoid fees by meeting certain conditions. For example, consumers can maintain a minimum balance, set up direct deposit or sign up for electronic statements. The survey also found that nearly half the credit unions do not require a minimum balance to open an account. Fees rose modestly from last year as well; bounced check fees are up by about a dollar at $26. ATM fees rose slightly to $2.10, from $2. Unlike banks, credit unions are member owned not-for-profits that cater to specific communities, such as a particular profession, company, university or church. Still, the steadfast availability of free checking at more than three-quarters of the surveyed credit unions is in contrast to the corresponding pullback by banks in the recent times. Last year, 65 percent of bank checking accounts were free with no strings attached, down from 76 percent the previous year, according to Bankrate. Although free checking remains widely available at banks, customers increasingly have to meet certain conditions to have monthly fees waived. The growing prevalence of fees and conditions comes as new regulations made checking accounts less profitable. For starters, overdraft fees can't be charged unless an accountholder affirmatively chooses to allow such transactions to go through. Additionally, federal regulators are debating a cap on the fees banks and credit unions collect from merchants whenever customers use their debit cards. The proposed regulation currently exempts smaller financial institutions with less than $10 billion in assets from the cap, meaning credit unions would be less affected than larger banks.