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The banks' explanation

The banks with the highest average annual fees in our analysis all say those fees are not necessarily being paid by their military customers. To the banks' credit, all of their one-time overdraft fees are generally lower than the national average, and they all offer free checking accounts with direct deposit, which consumer advocates say is getting harder to come by. Here's what each bank had to say about the fees:

Armed Forces Bank of California and Armed Forces Bank: President Don Giles says a couple of accounting quirks that have nothing to do with customer fees causes average fees at his two banks to rank among the highest, including the calculation of inter-bank fees that aren't charged to customers, such as when a customer travels to California and uses Armed Forces Bank of California's ATMs and other services without any fees.

Of the two banks' 53 branches on installations, 30 are inside Army, Navy and Air Force exchanges. Giles says the amount the exchanges pay his banks to perform "cash cage" functions is also reported as a service charge — even though customers aren't paying it — by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. The banks'free checking accounts require no minimum balance if there is a direct deposit. The fee for overdrafts is $25 and can be charged up to five times a day. The banks offer alternative overdraft protection plans, such as a link to a savings account.

Fort Sill National Bank: President and CEO John Davis concedes that overdraft fees are probably a significant part of the bank's service charges but says most of those charges are incurred by nonmilitary customers. Most of the bank's 68 branches are outside base gates — primarily in Walmart Supercenters — and serve customers who are low- to middle-income and tend to have smaller balances and incur more fees. About 16 percent of the bank's customers are on active duty. The bank's overdraft fee is a comparatively low $18 and can be charged up to seven times in one day. Customers who have direct deposit pay no fee for checking and have no required minimum balance. Those without direct deposit pay $4.95 per month for checking if their balance falls below $75.

Fort Hood National Bank: Terry Tuggle, bank president, chairman and chief executive officer, says he can't speculate on why his bank's average fees are among the highest but says "trying to make a direct comparison with such a small set of banks is difficult." About 16 percent of the bank's customers are on active duty, Tuggle says.

The bank's tiered system of overdraft fees starts at $19 and increases with subsequent overdrafts, up to $35. Among the bank's perks for troops and their families is a free checking account with a $100 bonus when they open a direct deposit account.

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