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BofA backs off checking fee hike

By Claes Bell, CFA · Bankrate.com
Wednesday, December 5, 2012
Posted: 7 am ET

A little more than a year since the original bank transfer day protest took aim at Bank of America's controversial debit card fee, it looks like the megabank is backing away from another checking account fee increase.

Since early last year, Bank of America has been running a pilot program in Arizona, Georgia and Massachusetts. Customers in those states have been charged a flat monthly fee of $6 to $9 for basic checking services, and the idea has been that if the experiment worked, it could be rolled out nationwide.

But the bank looks to be putting the fee increases on hold for now, writes Shayndi Raice and Robin Sidel in The Wall Street Journal:

Bank of America Corp. has shelved plans for new fees that could have hit at least 10 million customers by the end of this year, skirting a potential replay of a 2011 uproar over consumer-banking charges.

The decision to hold off on new checking-account fees at least until late next year comes amid a sweeping review of the bank's retail-banking business, said people familiar with the bank's plans.

While checking fees are obviously nothing new, what's unique about BofA's Essentials account is that it charges an unavoidable flat fee for basic checking. Most megabanks have imposed a monthly maintenance fee in the last few years, but they've also offered some kind of path to avoid it, such as by keeping more money in your account, signing up for direct deposit, etc. While Bank of America is still offering accounts with those kinds of fee waivers, even in the states running the pilot program, customers who chose an Essentials account have had to pay the fees, end of story.

From BofA's point of view, having to tiptoe around fee increases must be a little odd. It wasn't that long ago that people essentially didn't care about banking fees, and it's probably strange that charging money for delivering an important service would be a hot-button issue. But customers have been conditioned to expect free checking, and getting people to pay for something they're used to getting for free can be really hard. Just run over to your local newspaper and ask how their online paywall is going.

That's why I think Bank of America's caution is warranted. Thanks to the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, and changes in Regulation E, more transparency in checking costs may be inevitable. But it doesn't seem smart for Bank of America to take the lead here. The backlash from the company's $5 debit card fee debacle is still a little too fresh, and it's smart for BofA to wait for other megabanks to make similar checking changes so it has a little cover if it wants to move  forward.

Sure, the bank will lose some customers to higher fees, but most customers will stick with BofA because changing bank accounts takes a little more legwork than a lot of people are willing to do to save $6 a month.

What do you think? Should Bank of America be hesitant about raising fees on customers? Would a $6 to $9 per month fee make you switch?

Follow me on Twitter: @ClaesBell.

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51 Comments
BILL RICHARDSON
December 06, 2012 at 7:15 am

My checking acct was charged with a $25.00 fee. When I questiond this they told me that th computer was down and they wouldn't be abe to check on it. How convenient.
I also have savings accts with BOA. How much would I have to have in my savings to offset this charge???
If htis charge comes back again, I'm outa here.

Gail
December 06, 2012 at 5:48 am

These banks use our money to invest and earn money for themselves. Used to be they would pay us for that privilege, now they want to charge us for it, and are constantly thinking up new ways to do it! I got sick of this a long time ago, and bank at a credit union. I will never go back to a big bank, even if that's all that's left some day.

Keetoosya
December 06, 2012 at 4:46 am

I kept BofA even when leaving Florida and now live in Pittsburgh where there is no branch office, if they think they're going to charge me for anything my money is out of there!

Accountiblity
December 06, 2012 at 3:29 am

These too big to fail mega banks have alot of nerve. They recieve taxpayer funded bailouts and also been caught laundering drug money too. And I mean all 5 of them! Google this and see for yourself it has been reported on and nobodies in jail? Don't even get started on robo signing and mortgage fraud. Everyone should move their money to small community banks or credit unions as a protest to teach these clowns a lesson. But since Americans are ignorant and lazy they will continue on with the status quo.

sheila
December 06, 2012 at 2:36 am

Bank of America can impose any additional fees they think they can get away with, and if that were to happen, they will see the last of me AND my money.

cherry walker
December 06, 2012 at 2:08 am

Ileft bank of america because of the fee for checking accounts. I was with them for several years. At one time I had well over 100,000 dollars with free checking, when my balance decreased they wanted to charge me a service on one of my checking accounts, thats the day I withdrew my money. Nothing is free, they make boo-coo dollars off of customers money. to the person who wants to blame the democrats, get a life, and get over the fact that PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA won a second term fare and square!

Ely
December 06, 2012 at 1:10 am

I've been banking with BoA for years. And it seems more and more fees have been added on. If they decide to do another increase or another fee, i will have to switch. No 2 machines in my state charge the same fee for a certain transaction. I have had to do trial and error at different machines to find which one is cheaper. I may not even give them the chance to increase and might just start looking now.

william campbell
December 06, 2012 at 1:06 am

If Bank of America is using our money to make money for there bank, we should charge them a fee for using our money. This seames real good to me. This may off set some of the fees they charge us. When they add on fees we can demand more back on our fees to them. See how BofA likes this Idea!!!!!

Bruce McClure
December 06, 2012 at 12:57 am

The first day BofA charges me a checking fee will be the last day they have my account.

gino greenberg
December 06, 2012 at 12:51 am

anyone ever think that the Dodd-Frank law has anything to do with all of our banks having to charge fees for services which used to be free. Stinking lib dems, passing laws for the common joe, what a joke.
i'm no fan of B of A. They were given our tax dollars, and are sticking it right up our _ _ _.