Remember the good old days, when things like water, air and checking were free? Now you pay up to a dollar for a bottle of water, 50 cents for a few pounds of air pressure for your tires, and free checking, well, you might as well start saying goodbye to that too.

In fact, the cost of everyday banking is rising. My wife had to check her account yesterday at Wachovia to see who she had written a check to and the bank charged her $17 for that privilege.

As for those glory days when you could go into your friendly neighborhood branch bank and open a checking account for free? They're gone. Today, it's not uncommon to pay monthly chargers for each account, or be forced to maintain a particular level of balance along with a number of other conditions in order to keep costs down. If you want to use a teller for free, you can forget it. 

As usual, you can thank your federal government for passing a bunch of laws aimed at reforming the financial system that also ended up making it harder for banks to make money. So they're doing what every other business does when times are tough. They're passing the pain along to their customers and grabbing money where-ever they can.

Free checking? What, are you kidding?

Bank of America is the primary bank for half of all households in America. This week it said it was changing the way it does business to make up for what the government hath taken away.

If you open a new account at Bank of America today, you will pay $8.95 per month if you use a teller or want to receive a monthly statement on paper. Customers can still possibly get free banking but only if they do their banking online. However, many people are still afraid to use the Internet for financial transactions.

In defense of their actions, a Bank of America spokeswoman admitted something worth noting. She said "customers never had free checking accounts," adding that "they always paid for them in other ways such as penalty fees."

Bank of America isn't the only major bank charging fees for checking accounts. Many have already begun charging for paper statements. The average cost is around $7.50 a month.

According to the research firm Moebs Services, it is now up to the smaller Main Street banks and credit unions to use the disappearance of free checking at the major banks as away to attract customers.

So if you're looking for free checking, don't give up hope. That little community bank down the street might just be the answer. Just check their financials first to make sure they're not about to go out of business.