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Are 100 duck-sized bank fees better?

By Claes Bell ·
Tuesday, February 19, 2013
Posted: 1 pm ET

Ever since President Barack Obama did an "ask me anything" session on the popular website Reddit, there's been a rather bizarre question floating around the Internet: Would you rather fight one horse-sized duck, or 100 duck-sized horses?

The idea behind the question boils down to, would you rather deal with one big nuisance or a bunch of small ones? A new report seems to suggest that when it comes to checking fees, customers prefer the latter.

Banks have been trying for a while now to figure out how to make checking accounts pay now that regulations have cut off a big chunk of their revenue. So far, they've mostly stuck with the one-horse-sized-duck approach, tacking a noticeable $5 monthly fee onto customers who don't meet certain requirements regarding the size of their balance.

But customers might instead prefer a fully a la carte, 100-duck-sized-horse pricing scheme, according to a new report from the Deloitte Center for Financial Services. In a national survey conducted by Deloitte, 48 percent of Americans would prefer paying 25 cents to 75 cents for each transaction, compared to just 21 percent who would prefer a substantial monthly fee.

This may be why prepaid debit cards, many of which make their money from smaller charges for doing things such as making ATM withdrawals and balance inquiries, are selling like hot cakes. But would per-transaction pricing really be a good deal for customers? Probably not.

Say you put the per-transaction fee right there in the middle of Deloitte's range at 50 cents a pop. The average debit card holder makes 23 transactions a month on their card, according to the latest data from the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston. That would put their monthly cost at $11.50 a month, higher than any monthly maintenance fee I've seen at a major bank, even before adding in ATM fees and other charges.

What do you think? Would you prefer a per-transaction fee, or a monthly flat fee? Or to just do the legwork to move your account to an institution with no fee at all?

Follow me on Twitter: @ClaesBell.

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