Bank customers do not want monthly account fees even if it spells the end of penalty charges, a survey suggests.
A High Court case could change the way banks do business
The High Court is due to decide in a test case whether the level of penalty charges made by banks is lawful.
If the banks lose, some fear they may try to recoup money with monthly fees or by charging for each transaction.
A YouGov survey of 2,116 people for website Moneysupermarket.com suggested just 8% wanted a regular fee with 1% wanting a charge for each transaction.
At the moment, people can be charged as much as £35 for going overdrawn without authorisation or for having a direct debit refused.
The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) is investigating the current penalty charges system.
Some experts suggest that the money from these charges essentially subsidises the accounts of people who did not incur them.
Kevin Mountford, head of current accounts at moneysupermarket.com, said free banking was possible "largely because of the number of people who are hit with fees and charges".
If this was outlawed, a pay-per-transaction system - as used in many other countries - could be introduced in the UK.
"We could well see the system prevalent in Western Europe, North America and Australia, where there are a certain number of free transactions and then you pay for any additional ones," Mr Mountford said.
"We have already seen some providers abandon the concept of free banking by steadily introducing a bevy of charges on their less profitable customers."
The introduction of such transaction charges could lead to a change in the spending habits of people used to making cash withdrawals or multiple card transactions, he added.
There has been a growing consumer campaign against bank charges.
Tens of thousands of bank customers have threatened to take their current account provider to court for the return of bank charges.
They have argued that the charges are excessive and breach consumer law.
To date the banks have avoided taking on consumers head-on in court.
Instead, banks have preferred to pay-up or have simply not turned-up to court hearings.
Therefore, the OFT, with the agreement of the banks, has decided to take a test case over the scale and legality of their charges to court.
If the OFT wins it could lead to hundreds of millions of pounds in bank charges being returned to customers.
However, if the banks win it will effectively bring the issue to a close and enshrine their right to levy charges on people who go into unauthorised overdraft.