Just when I thought I was safe from Wells Fargo's checking fee ...

Money and pen with bank statement

On March 8, I wrote about Wells Fargo's plan to roll out a $7 checking account fee for account holders in six states.

New Jersey, where I live, was one of those states, but I said I wasn't worried.

"You must pay the fee unless you have a direct deposit of $500 a month, keep at least $1,500 in the account or, like me, have a mortgage through the bank," I wrote.

Apparently I was wrong, because I soon received a letter telling me I'd be hit by the checking fee, effective May 4.

I contacted Wells Fargo's customer service, thinking this must have been a mistake. Not only do I have a mortgage with this big bank, but a credit card account as well.

Nope, said the customer service rep, who then prattled on about how I could avoid the checking fee and how I could get a "discount" for getting electronic statements.

Um, I already do that. Thanks for the personalized service.

I was then told I could switch to a Complete Advantage Checking account, which charges a $15 monthly fee.

The reason the bank pointed me to it?

First, the customer service rep said the fee would be waived because I have a Wells Fargo mortgage.

Second, Wells Fargo wants me out of my old account.

I was told that if I made the switch, I would be leaving a grandfathered kind of checking account -- my once-free account at Wachovia, which was rolled over to Wells when it purchased Wachovia -- and could not return.

Here's the thing: I probably wouldn't be charged the $7 checking fee if I stayed put in my current account.

One of my clients pays by direct deposit, and I haven't made less than $500 in a month from them in more than a year.

But why would I stay with a bank that acts like it despises its customers?

So I opened an ING Direct Electric Orange checking account, and I'll have my money out of Wells by May 4.

It's about damn time.