8/20/2012 2:15 PM ET|
The stupidest fees of 2011
Los Angeles Times columnist David Lazarus recently called attention to one bank fee I'd never heard of in more than two decades of writing about banks: the cash-deposit fee.
It seems that many banks charge their business customers a fee if they try to deposit a lot of cash at once.
Lazarus reported that Bank of America charges some of its business accounts 20 cents for every $100 in cash deposited after an initial $10,000, Chase charges 40 cents for every $1,000 in cash deposited over $7,500, and Citibank charges 10 cents for every $100 in cash deposited after an initial amount ranging from $5,000 to $20,000, depending on the type of account.
Lazarus tries to make the point that these fees "can be a cold slap in the face at a time when every cent counts."
Mmm, maybe. But really, these fees are pretty small, and that's kind of the point. Here it really is the principle that counts.
"Call me old-fashioned, but handling customers' cash is a service that banks have provided without complaint for centuries. They're banks, for goodness sakes," Lazarus writes. "The 'management costs' of such activities are belied by the modest fees involved. Chase needs to charge an extra 40 cents for every $1,000 deposited beyond a certain level? How could that possibly make a difference?"
Call it a "we charge it because we can" fee. Or call it what I do: stupid.
Fees for the unemployed
Forty states have largely phased out paper unemployment checks in favor of loading benefits onto prepaid cards -- a form of payment notorious for egregious fees.
Banks issuing the cards often lard them with junk fees, according to a study earlier this year by the National Consumer Law Center. People using the cards are being charged for checking their balances, for using ATMs in their banks' own networks and even for making purchases.
The study singled out as the best cards the Bank of America versions offered in New Jersey and California. These cards don't charge for in-network ATM withdrawals and allow two free out-of-network withdrawals and free cash back from purchases. Balance inquiries are free, as is customer service.
The card with the most junk fees was the JPMorgan Chase card in Tennessee. While other cards offered at least one free in-network withdrawal per deposit, the Tennessee card charges $1 for the first two withdrawals and 60 cents thereafter, plus $3.50 for out-of-network withdrawals. It also is one of the five state cards that charges for declined transactions and one of 10 that charges for balance inquiries.
Some states even charge inactivity fees for balances left on the cards after as little as 90 days. Congress thought inactivity fees were egregious enough on gift cards that they've been banned for the first year, but apparently Alabama, Idaho, Michigan, Missouri and Oregon don't care to provide their unemployed with the same protections offered a gift card buyer.
But Chase also offered one of the better cards, the one in Arizona, which offers plenty of free transactions and access to customer service. The study noted that "card features vary considerably even among those issued by the same bank, so clearly there is room for negotiation and adjustment."
The consumer law center points out that high fees can eat away at the already paltry weekly unemployment check, which averages $294, and recommended that states "eliminate all penalty and information fees and ensure that recipients can easily access each benefit deposit without charge."
C'mon, states. Don't let banks skin people who are out of work, just because you declined to negotiate them a better deal. That's just stupid.
Liz Weston is the Web's most-read personal-finance writer. She is the author of several books, most recently "The 10 Commandments of Money: Survive and Thrive in the New Economy" (find it on Bing). Weston's award-winning columns appear every Monday and Thursday, exclusively on MSN Money. Join the conversation and send in your financial questions on Liz Weston's Facebook fan page.
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