Wells Fargo Adds $7 Monthly Checking Fee

Wells Fargo customers in six states who had free checking accounts will pay $7 a month for paper statements starting in May, the bank said today.

The plan is being rolled out in Georgia, New Jersey, Delaware, Connecticut, New York and Pennsylvania, but the bank may reportedly expand to other regions.  Banks across the country are seeking new ways to raise fees after new  federal consumer-protection regulations that have cut into profits.

Stephanie Wei, vice president of deposit products for consumer finance site NerdWallet, said the latest announcement lowers the bank's ranking in its monthly list of Top 5 banks for checking accounts.

See a list of checking fees at the 10 largest banks.

NerdWallet found that big banks charge  consumers an average of $110 a year if consumers can't meet conditions to waive fees. Wells Fargo previously had the lowest average of $60 a year.

Monthly fees across banks ranged from $5 to $12 for basic accounts and $10.95 to $30 for premium accounts.  Overdraft fees range from $25 to $35, but some banks make concessions for small overdraft amounts. Except for Bank of America, all five big banks waive fees for current students.

Except for Citibank, which has no opening deposit requirement, other banks require $25-$100, for at least 24 hours, to open an account.

A spokeswoman for Wells Fargo said the bank began informing customers in those states earlier this month they would be charged a $5 fee with online statements for the basic "Essential Checking" accounts, if they do not qualify for a fee waiver. Many customers qualify for the fee waiver by having monthly direct deposits totaling $500 or by maintaining a minimum balance of $1,500, the bank said.

Lisa Westermann, Wells Fargo spokeswoman, said a large majority of customers will continue to have their monthly service fee waived.

She said each of the consumer checking and savings accounts the bank offers has at least one, and in most cases, several ways to waive the monthly service fee.  Other accounts may qualify for a fee waiver by having a Wells Fargo Home Mortgage.

"All of our accounts offer significant value to our customers and we offer many additional services at no extra charge," she said.

Wells Fargo says it hasn't offered free checking to new customers since 2010. The bank says it started moving customers in California and other western states to the $7 fee last year and is expanding to six more states.

Banks have been adding and experimenting with fees, including Bank of America and its failed $5 debit card fee last year. The second-largest U.S. bank by assets announced in early January that it was testing fees in Arizona, Georgia and Massachusetts, which represent about 10 percent of its consumer business.