finger with dollar on it - chase small direct depositsBeginning in February, Chase will begin charging a growing number of its customers for basic checking accounts. What might raise some objections is who's being singled out for these new fees: account holders who receive small direct deposits of less than $500. Right now, anyone who gets a direct deposit can have the $6 monthly fee waived, but that's about to change.

If someone -- say a person on unemployment, or a senior citizen receiving government benefits -- gets less than $500 per payment period, they'll be hit with the fee. Multiple deposits that add up to $500 don't count. Consumers who use their debit cards to make five or more purchases in each statement period also can have the fee waived.For poor or unemployed people on a fixed income, though, the prospect of going out to the store -- especially if they need to rely on public transportation -- to deplete their meager savings five times a month is sure to be stressful at best, and onerous or impossible at worst. A Chase spokesman tells WalletPop via email, "Chase is offering customers multiple ways to enjoy the convenience and value of Chase checking without a monthly service fee." Unfortunately, most of those ways involve having money -- either keeping a high balance in the account or having an over-$500 direct deposit.

The reason banks are putting the screws to its customers is that it's losing money thanks to new regulations. Recent restrictions on credit and debit card interchange fees stand to put a serious dent in the income it receives from merchants when those stores accept your card. As we recently pointed out, one finance executive predicted that banks probably stand to lose about $3.6 billion on reduced debit card fees alone. In addition, banks lost money when the CARD Act went into effect and imposed limits on fees and interest-rate hikes on credit cards.

In general, consumer advocates prefer the implementation of account fees to the pre-regulation status quo; beforehand, customers were often taken by surprise when they were hit with a fee or a rate hike. Now, if customers don't like the new fees, they can evaluate their options in a more equal fashion and switch banks if they don't like the service they're getting. As for Chase, when WalletPop asked how low-income account holders such as senior citizens would be affected, the spokesman replied that only 7% of Social Security recipients receive payments of less than $500. For the sake of those 7%, WalletPop certainly hopes they're not Chase customers!

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