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Did banks coordinate debit fees?

By David McMillin · Bankrate.com
Sunday, October 16, 2011
Posted: 12 pm ET

In another case of the discussion of new bank fees climbing up Capitol Hill, some lawmakers suspect recent fee hikes may be a violation of federal anti-trust laws.

U.S. Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) wrote a letter to the Attorney General's office Thursday to ask for an investigation into the new fees and the possibility banks illegally worked together to set industry-wide price increases for customers. From Rep.Welch:

We urge you to immediately open an investigation to determine whether banking trade associations and/or individual banks have violated antitrust laws. Specifically, we are concerned communications between banks and bank associations that may amount to price signaling or collusion have occurred in the wake of Congressional action to reform debit card swipe fees.

While the call for an investigation may help elevate him during campaign season, I don't know if there is any foul play at work here. Sure, members of the banking industry have given us plenty of reasons to mistrust them, but the timing of the announcements doesn't set off many warnings to me. Everyone expected bank fees to rise as the banking industry's answer to the declining profit potential from the Durbin Amendment. The past few fee introductions just confirm what we already knew: Everyday consumers are going to pay to make up for lost earnings.

If banks really worked together to implement fees, why are there so many differences? Bank of America will begin charging $5 per month while Wells Fargo charges $3. While Chase is testing its debit card fee in certain markets, the bank has not committed to a full-fledged fee. Citibank specifically stated it will not charge for debit card use. The range of reactions seems to support that fees will indeed rise, but how much you are charged and what for varies among institutions.

What do you think? Could America's big banks be setting new fee policies together behind closed doors?

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1 Comment
Cole
October 17, 2011 at 9:19 am

This sounds like yet another attempt to make banks the big, bad scapegoats and the politicians the knights in shining armor. It's like a kid standing next to a broken lamp and claiming "I didn't do it!"