CHICAGO (CBS) — Many of us are used to free checking, but some big bank customers are facing a difficult choice: pay up or switch banks.
It’s all because of changes in the fine print.READ MORE: 'An Important Time For Us': Chicagoans Celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month
Morning Insider Lauren Victory introduces us to one unhappy customer who brought her concerns to us.
A fresh-faced Jill Bajorek started college with a new bank account, her first one.
“It was a very available bank. Lots of branches everywhere,” Bajorek said of Chase Bank, which has served her well for the last 18 years.
Then came an email in August telling her, “You’ll now have a monthly service fee of $12.”
The ways to waive that? Keep a $1,500 dollar minimum in the account, maintain $5,000 across multiple Chase accounts, or set up a $500 dollar a month direct deposit.
The problem is some people don’t use direct deposit, including Bajorek.
“That’s not something you can choose to have if your job doesn’t offer that. So, myself, I’m an independent contractor. I’m a psychotherapist, on my own, doing my dream job,” said Bajorek.
Her dream job pays at random times, because she’s at the mercy of insurance companies who reimburse her for services.
The psychotherapist is also frustrated on behalf of some of her patients, who are struggling gig workers.
“It’s already difficult with inconsistent income, but now they’re incurring a fee?” she said.
CBS 2 tapped Teresa Murray, a consumer watchdog from the Public Interest Research Group for some perspective.READ MORE: Downtown Chicago Roadblocks Quell Mexican Independence Day Street Celebrations
“I don’t necessarily know if this is popular with a lot of people, but you know, some folks think it’s their God-given right to have a free checking account,” said Murray, bluntly.
She explained that banks have expenses to keep branches open, to process checks, to enable online transactions, and most importantly to keep our money safe.
The concept of “free checking” only got popular in the past 20 years. Slowly creeping back: the return of fees.
“It certainly affects people who may, frankly, be living paycheck to paycheck; which from some surveys is about half the country,” said Murray. who adds there’s always the option to find a new bank.
A spokesperson for Chase Bank tells CBS2 that nearly 90 percent of customers are able to avoid the $12 a month.
Since Bajorek says she can’t take advantage of the fee-waiving options Chase poses, we asked why she doesn’t just switch banks.
“Eighteen years of an account. I have a lot of bills attached to this account,” she said.
It’d certainly be a headache and homework to find somewhere new, but it’s not impossible.
“Shop around,” said Murray. “There are banks that do still offer no-fee checking accounts.”
Chase Bank stresses the direct deposit needed to waive the monthly fee doesn’t need to be from an employer.
Payments to rideshare and food delivery drivers qualify, as do government benefits.MORE NEWS: 'We're Back': Store Owner Reopens Chicago Sports On Michigan Avenue After 2020 Unrest
A spokesperson also pointed to another type of checking account available from Chase that charges a flat $4.95 monthly fee.