Wells Fargo recently announced that it will be instituting a $7 monthly service fee for checking accounts in six eastern states, adding to the 23 states where the fee is already in place.

The nationwide banking chain, which has 6,200 branches in 39 states, ended free checking in 2010. All new checking accounts have included the service fee in every state where Wells Fargo operates, though existing ones were allowed to remain free. That policy has shifted with the bank moving to institute the fee on all of its checking account holders.

Wells Fargo has cited new regulations on overdraft fees and other service charges as the reason for instituting the monthly fee.

There are a few ways to avoid the fee. Here they are:

1. Maintain a minimum balance

Customers who maintain a minimum balance of $1,500 will not be charged the service fee. If you have some extra cash in a savings account, it might be a good idea to transfer some of it over to your checking account to pad your balance, especially before you make a large purchase.

2. Receive monthly direct deposits

Customers who receive monthly direct deposits of at least $500 will also avoid the fee. If you work for a company that offers direct deposit for you paycheck, it would be a good idea to enroll in it. Withdrawing $500 every month and re-depositing it is not going to work. Online payment services like PayPal allow you to transfer funds back and forth from your bank account, but these transfers do not count as direct deposits.

3. Get it reduced

Customers who sign up for online statements can get a $2 reduction on the service fee. This isn't exactly avoiding it, but it's a quick and easy way to save a few bucks and a few trees as well.

4. Fed up? Switch banks

If all else fails, you can always switch to another bank or financial institution. Granted, this is a drastic measure, and the inconvenience of untangling all your monthly payments and account registrations might not be worth the trouble.

There's also the matter of finding another bank that's not doing the same thing. Bank of America has begun instituting $6 service fees for checking accounts in Arizona, Georgia and Massachusetts.

Local banks and credit unions, however, have been gaining popularity, following a recent exodus of disgruntled customers from the major banking chains like Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Chase and CitiBank.

The beneficiaries of the increased exodus from larger banks are (unsurprisingly) primarily smaller banks and credit unions, reads a Feb. 2012 article from The Financial Brand, according to a 2012 study from J.D. Power & Associates. Acquisition of new customers by smaller banks and credit unions increased by 2.2 percentage points to an average of 10.3 percent.

These smaller financial institutions may not have the national reach of the bigger banks, but that doesn't necessarily mean that they can't provide most of the same services, and many without all the extra fees. Of course, it takes a little research. The bigger banks are counting on the inconvenience to deter customers from leaving. But if the study by J.D. Power & Associates is any indication of future trends, they could be in for a rude awakening.