NEW YORK – Is a monthly debit card fee becoming the norm?

Bank of America said Thursday that it will start charging a $5 monthly fee when customers make debit card purchases. The fee will be rolled out starting early next year.

Paying to use a debit card was unheard of before this year and is still a novel concept for many consumers. But several banks have recently introduced, or said they are testing, debit card fees. That’s in addition to the spate of other unwelcome changes checking account customers have seen in the past year.

Bank of America’s announcement carries added weight because it is the largest U.S. bank by deposits.

Customers will only be charged the fee if they use their debit cards for purchases in any given month, said Anne Pace, a Bank of America spokeswoman. Customers who only use their cards at an ATM won’t have to pay that month.

The fee will apply to basic accounts, which are marketed toward those with modest balances, and will be in addition to any existing monthly service fees. For example, one such account charges a $12 monthly fee unless customers meet certain conditions, such as maintaining a minimum average balance of $1,500.

The debit card fee is just the latest twist in the rapidly evolving market for checking account.

A study by Bankrate.com this week found that just 45 percent of checking accounts are now free with no strings attached, down from 65 percent last year and 76 percent in 2009.

Customers can still get free checking in most cases, but only if they meet certain conditions, such as setting up direct deposit.

The study also found that the total average cost for using an ATM rose to $3.81, from $3.74, the year before. The average overdraft fee rose slightly to $30.83, from $30.47

The changes come ahead of a regulation that goes into effect next month.