Updated: 6:15 p.m., March 1
Bank fees are in the spotlight again. The Wall Street Journal reported that Bank of America is planning to roll out new checking-account fees, and the news stirred up negative sentiment in the social mediaverse almost immediately, with consumers reacting angrily to the idea. Chase, meanwhile, wants to charge customers even more than the $12 some of them are already paying each month. Following last year’s controversial (and ham-handed) attempts to implement debit-card fees, banks are treading more carefully these days. But the latest news indicates that fees are going to remain a hot-button issue in the months ahead.
Bank of America spokeswoman Anne Pace says the fees reported by the Journal on Thursday are nothing new. Pilot programs going on in a trio of states are testing monthly account fees ranging from $9 to $25. “We have been testing in select markets for more than a year and plan to continue to learn from those tests,” she says via e-mail. B of A isn’t commenting on a timeline for a broader rollout, and Pace says exactly how B of A will set up accounts and fees is still under consideration. “We have made no decisions on the construct of new product offerings,” she says.
The Journal cites an anonymous B of A source that says the new checking requirements could come in “a few months.”
In an e-mail, B of A’s Pace specifically contradicted one element of the Journal‘s story: While the WSJ speculated that the bank’s bottom-tier checking account would come with a mandatory monthly fee that couldn’t be waived under any circumstances, Pace says that idea’s not on the table. “All our current and future [accounts] offer ways to avoid fees,” she says.
On Thursday afternoon, Bank of America sent out a Tweet that read, “We are not planning to increase checking account fees for existing customers. Media reports this morning are inaccurate.” Of course, people with sharp eyes will notice this doesn’t say anything about new customers, but the assurance seems aimed at preventing the kind of pre-emptive defection by existing customers that took place after plans for the debit-card fee were announced last year.
This may or may not be good news for consumers, depending on what those ways consist of. Last fall, with Bank of America and Chase embroiled in debit-fee disputes, Citibank announced it would not implement a debit fee and then debuted a new lineup of checking accounts with significantly higher minimum-balance requirements for a customer to avoid monthly fees.
And Chase — the largest bank in the country by assets — seems to be going out of its way to ruffle the feathers of the 99% this week. In a conference on Tuesday, a Chase executive told investors that 70% of customers with less than $100,000 in deposits or investments would be unprofitable for the bank if new regulations like overdraft-fee caps are implemented.
This is the same argument we’ve heard from banks before: a government agency examines a practice or fee — usually one that’s generated a lot of consumer dissatisfaction — and banks predict huge increases in the costs customers will have to bear if regulatory action is taken. The debit-fee flap was prompted by legislation that capped the amount of money banks could earn from merchants when consumers swipe their debit cards at checkout.
In the case of this most recent gripe from Chase, the bank told its investors that it wanted to charge customers more than the $10 or $12 many pay now. But the Journal quotes one exec acknowledging that consumers are staunchly opposed: “In this environment, I am not going to rock that boat,” he said. Consumers still might want to brace for a bumpy ride.