"Everybody advertises free checking, but it's only free at the front end," Mierzwinski said.
Many consumers, of course, do not pay any fees for checking accounts.
About 65 percent of consumers spend $3 or less in monthly fees for bank services, such as checking accounts and ATMs, according to a survey of 1,000 consumers. The American Bankers Association released the survey recently.
Consumers who don't get hit with the fees typically balance their checkbooks, use direct deposit, don't make mistakes, keep plenty of money in savings and checking and avoid using debit cards for every whim.
Yet consumer groups argue that overdraft fees often hit those who can least afford them. A small group of consumers typically pays most of the overdraft fees.
Diane Page, 41, of Sterling Heights, Mich., said her son Joshua, 17, was charged eight fees of $25 each in one day. It added up to $200 in fees for being overdrawn $130.
He was $330 in the hole.
"This is a 17-year-old kid," she said.
The money was in the bank at the time and spent on different days with a debit card from Co- merica Bank.
The trouble began when Joshua withdrew cash before he left for Army basic training at Fort Jackson, S.C., in July.
His mother acknowledges that he did not keep track of purchases. He based future spending on a balance the teller gave him. But that balance didn't include outstanding items. He didn't leave enough money in the account to cover purchases that had not cleared and were posted later.
So he got socked with one $25 fee for $1.79 at 7-Eleven.
One $25 fee for $4.12 at Little Caesars.
One $25 fee for $4.76 at Burger King.
One $25 fee for $6.24 at White Castle.
One $25 fee for $6.76 at Burger King.
One $25 fee for $7.62 at White Castle.
One $25 fee for $14.77 at 7-Eleven.
The eighth $25 fee would have been for the cash he withdrew at the bank.
After his mother spotted trouble, she got involved and the bank agreed to waive some fees. But instead of $200, Joshua is still being charged $100 in fees.
"It's just not right," she said.
Susan Tompor writes for the Detroit Free Press.