Get Ready for Bank-Fee Whack-a-Mole

Bank of America and Chase have abandoned controversial fees that were under consideration. But now banks are quietly calculating which other fees can take their place

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The dust has barely settled over the debit-card-fee flap but there’s more news from the big banks regarding fees. The good news is that it’s not all bad this time — both Bank of America and Chase have abandoned fees that were under consideration or in the testing phase. Meanwhile, though, banks are quietly calculating which other ones can take their place. Get ready for fee whack-a-mole. Aside from abandoning its test of a $3 debit fee, Chase also deep-sixed two monthly maintenance fees it rolled out several months ago in a couple of markets.

“The test accounts included a $10 monthly fee in Oklahoma that couldn’t be waived, and a $15 account in Atlanta that was waivable with $1,500 in checking or a combined $5,000 in deposit and investment accounts,” Chase spokesman Thomas Kelly said via e-mail.

(MORE: Banks Back Off Unpopular Debit-Card Fees)

A week ago, the Boston Globe reported that Bank of America abandoned a plan under consideration that could have had customers paying a $35 fee. Currently, Bank of America doesn’t allow debit transactions to be processed at the point of sale if the purchase would put the account in the red and trigger an overdraft fee.

According to the Globe, the bank was considering offering customers cell-phone text alerts if this was going to happen and letting them choose whether to have the card denied or have the transaction processed — and incur that $35 fee. After announcing that it would begin testing this concept in 2012, the bank backed off, telling the newspaper that the idea had been effectively scrapped.

Good news, right? Not so fast. The New York Times reports that several large banks are charging fees on everything from replacing a stolen debit card ($5 at Bank of America) to making a deposit via mobile phone (50 cents at U.S. Bank) to having cash wired into an account ($15 at TD Bank starting next month).

(MORE: How Much Basic Checking at a Big Bank Really Costs)

These new fees tend to share a couple of characteristics that make them a little less annoying than the widely derided debit fees or high monthly maintenance fees that draw so much ire among bank customers. First, some of these fees — like the U.S. Bank mobile-deposit fee — are fairly small. The Times also points out that many big banks have inched up their monthly maintenance fees by a few bucks or so recently.

Some of these new fees target conveniences or penalties like overdrawing your account or losing your debit card. Such fees are less likely to rile a broad base of consumers because their impact is hard to quantify. For example, if the amount your bank charges you to use an out-of-network ATM goes up by a dollar, you can’t easily anticipate how much that’s going to cost you after a year.

All of this makes it even more difficult for customers to get a concrete idea of just how much their checking account will cost them per month or per year. A handful of legislators and researchers have lobbied for a standard form that would spell out details about bank fees. For now, though, consumers are on their own.

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