World and Nation

Banks to make customers pay debit card fee

Bank of America, the nation’s biggest bank, said Thursday that it planned to start charging customers a $5 monthly fee when they used their debit cards. It was just one of several new charges expected to hit consumers as new regulations crimp banks’ profits.

Wells Fargo and Chase are testing $3 monthly debit card fees. Regions Financial, based in Birmingham, Ala., plans to start charging a $4 fee next month, while SunTrust, another regional powerhouse, is charging a $5 fee.

The round of charges stems from a rule, which takes effect Saturday, that limits the fees that banks can levy on merchants every time a consumer uses a debit card to make a purchase. The rule, known as the Durbin amendment, after its sponsor Sen. Richard J. Durbin, is part of the Dodd-Frank financial overhaul law.

Until now, the fees have been 44 cents a transaction, on average. The Federal Reserve in June agreed to cut the fees to about 21 cents. Although the fee amounts to pennies per swipe, it adds up across millions of transactions. The new limit is expected to cost the banks about $6.6 billion in revenue a year, beginning in 2012, according to Javelin Strategy and Research. That comes on top of another loss, of $5.6 billion, from rules restricting overdraft fees, which went into effect in July 2010.

And even though retailer groups had argued that lower fees were important to keep prices in check, consumers were not likely to see substantial savings. In fact, they are simply going to end up paying from a different pot of money.

Or as Jamie Dimon, chief executive of JPMorgan Chase, put it after passage last year of the Dodd-Frank act, “If you’re a restaurant and you can’t charge for the soda, you’re going to charge more for the burger.”

Chase is now charging customers for a paper statement. It also, like most other banks, scrapped its debit card rewards program. And customers that Chase inherited from Washington Mutual no longer enjoy free checking accounts.

The bank is also exploring a number of other fee increases, including for online banking, according to people with knowledge of the matter.

Bank of America’s debit fee is steeper than most of its competitors’, reflecting the broader challenges the bank is facing after the financial crisis. The bank has introduced an online-only account that charges customers for doing business at a local branch. It also plans to apply its new debit card fees to anyone who uses the card to make recurring payments like gym fees or cable bills.

Citibank is one of the few that said it would not introduce a charge for debit card use.

“We have talked to customers, and they have made it abundantly clear that‚ if you charge me to use my debit card, I would find that very irritating,” said Stephen Troutner, head of Citi’s banking products.

Still, the bank has made it more difficult to qualify for free checking, among other moves.

1 Comment
J. G. almost 11 years ago

BofA's infamous $5 fee and all other new fees that big banks have been testing are in response to the reduced revenues from debit card transactions that resulted from the passing of the Durbin Amendment and the subsequent Federal Reserve ruling to cap debit interchange at $0.22 0.05 of the transaction amount. That much is clear and frankly I don't blame the banks.

I mean, if the government decided that a substantial chunk of your income should be collected by someone else, wouldn't you try to find other ways to make money? I know I would.

We've been repeatedly warning, ever since the debit interchange debate began, that it was ultimately going to hurt consumers in the form of higher fees and that is precisely what is now taking place.