The worst of America's big bad banks have had plenty of time to drop their big bad debit card usage fees -- and they have totally refused to see the light: the light of reason, the light of fairness, the light of common decency. These megabanks had recently lost a lucrative but unwarranted source of revenue from excessive charges placed on merchants when customers made purchases on their debit cards. So now they are instead very willing to gouge their own customers to make up for that loss of bank revenue -- revenue which was unwarranted in the first place!
The merchant fee charges were limited to some semblance of actual costs by very recent new legislation championed by Illinois Senator Dick Durbin and other progressive legislators, and passed by Congress. Upon learning that the giant Bank of America was replacing that banned debit card fee imposed on merchants with a new five dollar a month debit card usage fee imposed upon its own customers, Durbin, according to the New York Times on October 7, 2011, "ranted and raved and suggested that consumers 'get the heck out of that bank.' "
Senator Durbin made an excellent suggestion, but it does not go far enough, because Bank of America is far from alone in its fee-gouging practices. Take just one other examplar of bad banking behavior: my own bank, Wells Fargo, which is using Georgia and other venues as testing grounds for a new three dollar a month 'debit card activity fee' which applies not only to purchases on customer debit cards but also to any periodic payments made on those same cards, a fact hidden away in Wells Fargo's fine print on recent hard-copy bank statements. (Wells Fargo has repeatedly refused to tell me how, or even if, customers who opted for electronic statements, which Wells Fargo is always pushing to save them money, were even notified of the new debit card usage fee.)
This latter portion of the fee is even worse than the purchase part of the new debit card fee, because it is a real nuisance to change the form of payment of, say, monthly utility bills or credit cards, as Wells Fargo is well-aware. So they are likely to get the extra three bucks a month from unwary customers or those unwilling to upset their whole financial payment system to avoid the fee, a reality of which Wells Fargo is also well aware. To avoid this pernicious new fee requires a $25,000 "banking relationship" with Wells Fargo, either by way of deposited funds or ten percent of an outstanding mortgage with the same bank. So these fees hit the smaller customers (ie. most of us), not the heavy hitters. This is a classic case of Robin Hood in Reverse!
There are several things which we can all do to not only cope with these pernicious new policies by many megabanks, but indeed to teach them a much-needed lesson. Since the fee limitations recently placed by Congress applied only to financial institutions with over $10 billion in assets, we can switch to smaller banks, community banks, credit unions, and the like. There are even specialized new institutions such as BancVue and PerkStreet which actually pay their customers, under many circumstances, for using their own debit cards to make purchases or periodic payments. We should all move our funds to such outfits, and we should make sure that our former megabanks are told just why.
That would reflect an informal boycott of the fee-gouging institutions, but we need to go beyond that, as they are very slow and reluctant to get the point. (I know firsthand, having tried for over a month to get the point across to my own bank, Wells Fargo, only to find that my diligent efforts have fallen upon totally-deaf ears and totally-blind eyes -- and I am a retired professor of money and banking, as well as their own customer and mortgage holder.) These big bad banks will get the message when we customers start departing in droves, again telling them exactly why we are leaving. And we need to get that message to their corporate levels. We can find the right email addresses if we try.
The other blade of the scissors of dealing with these big bad banks is to encourage Congress to place an outright ban on these new debit card usage fees, which were primarily implemented to get around the previous Congressional limitation on similar fees applied to merchants. It is flaunting the will of Congress for the big bad banks to replace one now-limited fee with an even worse new one. The approval rating of Congress is at an all time low, so firm and speedy action on this vital issue will not only serve to teach the big bad banks a lesson, it will serve to show that the United States Congress does have some backbone, after all. America needs to get its message, that these new debit card usage fees are totally unacceptable, across to our elected representatives, and we really need to do it right now. The clock is ticking, so let's stop that big bad bank clock in its tracks!