The Missouri Department of Insurance has been getting calls from Missourians who are being asked to pay for things for the first time. Spokesman Travis Ford says the new fees for checking accounts are legal.

“Mainly what we’re seeing is a phenomenon where there are fees being charged for things that have traditionally been free for the last couple of years, or even decades. For example, we’re starting to see some minimum balance requirements on checking accounts, maybe some fees on inactivity in a checking account. Those are things we just haven’t seen in a long time,” Ford said.

The Department of Insurance says some institutions are establishing new fees for balance transfers, ATM transactions and regular maintenance fees. Ford says the details of your account can be clarified with one call or visit to your bank.

“Make sure you know what’s in your terms and conditions for a bank account. Probably not many of us can say we’ve done that,” Ford said.

He says you should pay close attention to any mail from your bank, even if it’s usually just junk.

“When you get mail from your bank or credit union, it can easily be an offer of a solicitation for insurance or a credit card. But it could also be a statement letting you know there are new fees or new terms and conditions. So it’s a good idea to take a look at those things,” Ford said.

The Department of Insurance says a national survey shows that only 65 percent of checking accounts are free now, compared to 76 percent a year ago. Ford says you need to be vigilant to make sure the terms of your account aren’t being changed.

“There should be lots of good, free options out there for checking accounts that will meet your needs or be satisfactory to you. Be sure to look around if you’re not happy with what you have right now,” Ford said.

But you might be able to stay with the bank you have, too.

“A lot of times a call to the bank or the credit union or whoever you’re dealing with is all it takes to get you a better deal. Sometimes the better deals are left to those who simply ask for them,” Ford said.

The Department of Insurance says in a press release that banks and credit unions are trying to make up for lost revenue due to recent federal regulations limiting what banks can collect when customers overdraw their accounts.

AUDIO: Ryan Famuliner reports [1 min MP3]