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In 2011: New and higher bank fees

With new limits on the fees banks used to collect, they're raising others and inventing new ones.

By Karen Datko Jan 11, 2011 10:06AM

You could see this coming, right? With last year's limits on certain fees they can wrangle from customers, banks are dreaming up new ones and increasing some of the old standbys.

 

You've likely heard that your bank is adopting monthly fees on basic and more elaborate checking accounts. But those are by no means the only fees banks have in mind.

 

The Wall Street Journal reports:

Banks are thinking about imposing annual fees of $25 or $30 on debit cards, according to people familiar with bank strategies. Some also are considering limiting the number of debit card transactions that a customer can make each month, these people say. Another idea circulating in the industry: limiting the size of a purchase that a customer could make with a debit card.

Now that more purchases are made with debit cards than credit cards -- and the Federal Reserve has proposed limits to the "swipe" fees on debit cards -- big banks apparently want us to use credit cards again. Those transactions make more money for them.

 

Those ideas are still in the thinking stage (or so it seems). Let's talk about what we know right now: Say bye-bye to free checking -- what The Associated Press called "a mainstay in consumer banking for the past two decades" -- unless you can meet new conditions set by your bank, such as maintaining a high balance, using direct deposit, or swiping a debit card a specified number of times each month. Post continues after video.

Here's what some of the major banks are up to:

 

Bank of America

The nation's largest bank is revamping its three tiers of checking accounts to four, and trying out the new offerings in three states. The monthly fees range from $6 to $25. Your existing B of A account will turn into one of them in the second half of 2011. Here they are:

  • Essentials account. Unlike all other B of A accounts -- including those offered now and those in the test run -- you can't avoid paying a fee for this one, reportedly $6 or $9 a month.
  • eBanking account. You can avoid a monthly fee with this account, launched last year, if you do your banking online and get statements via e-mail. But heaven forbid you have to talk to a real teller. That will result in a $8.95 fee that month.
  • Enhanced account. Escape the monthly fee with a  $2,000 minimum balance, or a total of $5,000 in multiple accounts -- you can have four -- or by using a linked credit card one or more times a month.
  • Premium. To avoid a fee, you need $20,000 across linked accounts, which can include some investment accounts and your mortgage balance. You get up to  eight accounts and free stuff, like paper checks.
  • Platinum Privileges. For a combined balance of $50,000 or more, this account offers everything but a pedicure.

Chase

Starting next month, you'll pay a $6 monthly fee unless you make five debit card purchases or have one direct deposit of at least $500 each month. (As the Chicago Tribune notes, those getting unemployment benefits direct deposited likely won't meet that $500 threshold.)

 

Former Washington Mutual customers who now have Chase Free Classic and Chase Free Extra will pay a $12 monthly fee unless they meet one of four conditions.

 

Also at Chase, expect higher fees for all sorts of services, like stop payments and deposit of NSF checks, the Tribune reports. Use of a non-Chase ATM outside the U.S., Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands will increase $2 -- to a whopping $5.

 

Wells Fargo and Citi also now charge monthly maintenance fees, but offer ways to avoid them like meeting balance or use requirements.

 

What can you do?

  • Switch to an account at your bank that offers minimum requirements you can meet. But since so many require a pretty hefty minimum balance, this won't be a realistic option for every bank customer. "We don't want to raise fees for our customers, but unfortunately regulation is forcing us to do it," a Chase spokesman told CNNMoney.com. "And as a result, some customers might end up unbanked."
  • Change banks. Many banks still offer free checking, but it appears the number will decline. "The bank you switch to may adopt a fee at some point in the not-too-distant future," wrote Teresa Dixon Murray of The Plain Dealer.  
  • Try a community bank or credit union, which generally have lower fees than the big banks. Greg McBride, a senior financial analyst at Bankrate.com, said many online banks also offer free checking.

What has caused banks to raise fees? Several developments, including:

  • The Credit CARD Act set limits on fees and interest rate changes.
  • Federal regulations now prohibit banks from automatically enrolling customers in so-called overdraft protection, which used to generate billions in overdraft fees.
  • The aforementioned proposed limit on debit card swipe fees. 

Jim Cramer wrote in a post at our sister blog Top Stocks:

In the meantime, what's really happening now that financial regulations have been passed? All of the unintended consequences we love to see so much if we are shareholders: higher debit fees, ATM fees, checking fees. What did we think would happen? That they would choose to make much less money? That they would become charities?

More from MSN Money:

3Comments
Jan 28, 2011 8:30AM
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I could change the way I distribute my income (a LOT of it passive) and avoid the fees that are being imposed to me by my Chase formally WAMU "Totally Free Checking" but I will just close this account and stay with my Credit Union where I can "vote" for who is in control of my money as a shareholder.  I have been with them for over thirty years without any nonsense.

Jan 12, 2011 11:54AM
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It's a matter of more fees for less services..  They take your deposits into a savings account and loan out YOUR money and pay you what less the one half of one percent on savings account these days. You would expect that if they are using your money to make money it would be a reasonable trade off for the services of banking.  Accounts are not FREE to begin with.. its your money they are using and holding to lend out against..  So while some services are provided, they are making money off your deposits.. So some minimal services like checking or electronic banking should be included in the account.. with a reasonable minimum balance.
Jan 11, 2011 11:22AM
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So instead of offering customers free accounts and then trying to catch them with unexpected fees that customers don't think about until needed, or by trying to gouge retailers with exorbitant transaction fees for having customers sue their cards, the banks are instead going to have to start telling their customers upfront how much it's going to cost to bank with them, which will allow those customers to make decisions about which banks should have their business.  I'm not sure I see the downside here.
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