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Wells Fargo ends free checking in 6 more states

By Rick Rothacker

(Reuters) - Wells Fargo & Co is ending free checking in six more states, expanding a $7-per-month account charge that went into effect in other parts of the country last year.

Existing customers in Georgia, New Jersey, Delaware, Connecticut, New York and Pennsylvania will be required to pay the monthly fee for the "Essential" checking account, unless they keep a $1,500 minimum daily balance or make direct deposits of $500 each month, a Wells Fargo spokeswoman said Thursday.

After converting existing accounts in 24 Western states last year, the San Francisco-based bank is working on accounts in Eastern states, where it gained its first branches through its 2008 acquisition of Wachovia Corp. Accounts in its remaining East coast states will eventually be converted, spokeswoman Richele Messick said.

Wells Fargo, the fourth-largest U.S. bank by assets, began notifying customers in the six states of the change this week. The fee will appear in June bank statements. Customers can get a $2 discount by eschewing paper statements.

In recent years, banks have been doing away with free checking accounts as new regulations curb fees on overdrafts and other charges. Banks typically charge customers monthly fees, unless they choose to do more business with the bank.

Wells Fargo ended free checking for new customers in July 2010. It expects 80 percent of its customers to waive monthly maintenance fees by keeping minimum balances and taking other actions.

The Essential account is not available to new customers, who must pay $5 per month for a basic account, unless they keep a $1,500 minimum daily balance or have a direct monthly deposit of at least $250 in one lump sum.

This year, Wells Fargo also eliminated one of the ways customers could avoid monthly maintenance fees on its premium $10- and $15-per month accounts. Customers can no longer waive this fee by setting up a monthly automatic transfer to a savings account.

Messick, the Wells Fargo spokeswoman, said the bank wants customers to contact it. "We can talk to them about their needs and make sure they are in the right accounts," she said.

Wells Fargo has 6,200 bank branches in 39 states and the District of Columbia.

(Reporting By Rick Rothacker in Charlotte, N.C.; Editing by Richard Chang)

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