NEW YORK ( MainStreet) — It rankles. You put your money in an account at a bank, you know they use it, and still they want $10 or maybe $15 from you every month, for the privilege of parking your dough in their institution.

You don't like it? The answer at Chase, Wells Fargo and the other big banks is uniform: tough.

Know this: there are free checking accounts, available at well-regarded financial institutions. But you have to know to look.

Take the easy route - go with the 800-pound gorillas of U.S. banking - and you will pay for basic checking unless you have money you don't need.

At Chase, Total Checking costs $12 per month, unless you have direct deposit or maintain a $1,500 minimum daily balance.

At Wells Fargo, Everyday Checking is $10 per month, unless you have the $1,500 minimum daily balance or direct deposit. You can also earn free checking by making ten debit card purchases - but who needs the annoyance of keeping track on how many more you need by the cutoff date to get free checking that month?

The irony of course is that banking is what is called a spread business. A banker pays out X percent interest on deposit accounts, lends the money at Y, and the difference is the spread, which pays the bank's rent, its payroll, its shareholders and more. So indeed every bank where you have an account does in fact plan to make use of your money, to maximize the spread.

So you want checking for free? With no strings attached? The answer is Affinity Checking, offered by New Jersey's largest credit union, Affinity in Basking Ridge, NJ. Its network involves 65,000 surcharge free ATMs, the account includes free Mobile Remote Deposit Capture, free mobile bill pay, free online banking, and just about everything else.

Want a printed statement every month? One mailed to you costs $2. Otherwise the account is free, with no minimum balance.

Note: I personally use Affinity, have for some four years, and I have never been in any branch, plus I currently live about 2,500 miles from the closest one. But it works for me regardless.

For California psychologist Robert Epstein, what drove him to hunt for free checking was when his 10-year-old son's checking account - funded by birthday and holiday gifts, to a $200 tune - vanished under an onslaught of fees imposed by Citibank. "That's ridiculous," said Epstein.

The doctor complained, loudly and the kid's balance was restored, but Epstein still wanted out. His solution: California Coast Credit Union in San Diego, Calif. "We have never been charged a fee of any sort," said Epstein. "Not a dime."

That credit union, too, participates in the credit unions' shared ATM network, giving California Coast members fee free use of thousands of ATMs nationwide.