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Bank of America to charge debit card customers $5 monthly use fee

New fee announced just days before merchant interchange caps take effect

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Bank of America will begin charging debit card holders $5 a month for using their cards to access money for purchases.

Bank of America, the nation's largest bank by assets, will begin the fee starting early next year, according to spokeswoman Betty Riess.

"The fee enables us to continue to offer the convenience of the debit card that customers have to come to expect," Riess said in a telephone interview.

The announcement comes just days before the Oct. 1 startup of federal caps on the amount banks can charge merchants whenever customers swipe their debit cards. Called interchange fees, these revenues generated billions of dollars for banks and credit card networks. Merchants currently pay 1 percent to 2 percent of the amount of each purchase to banks -- or about 44 cents on the average debit card purchase.

The Federal Reserve, in drafting rules mandated by the Dodd-Frank Consumer Protection Act, capped swipe fees at 21 cents per transaction with a few pennies more allowed to cover fraud prevention and other costs.

BofA's Riess said the bank could lose as much as $2 billion a year in revenue as a result of the interchange limits. "The economics of offering a debit card have changed with recent regulations," she said in a statement.

Wells Fargo is set to start testing a $3-a-month debit card usage fee beginning Oct. 14 in five states (Oregon, Georgia, Nevada, Washington and New Mexico). JP Morgan Chase has been testing a $3 debit fee in a small market since February 2011. Several small regional banks are also testing debit fees.

Riess said BofA's program is not a test. "We will notify customers in writing at least 30 days before we start applying the fee," she said, adding the fee will be phased in to different accounts. She noted that not all customers will be charged the fee.

"If customers don't use their card for a purchases in a given month, they won't incur the fee," Riess said. "Also, the fee won't apply to using the card at the ATM."

She added: "The fee will be waived for customers with certain premium accounts. In addition, Wealth Management/Merrill Lynch and U.S. Trust clients will not be charged the fee."

See related: Banks charging $3 debit card usage fees, Fed boosts debit 'swipe fee' to 21 cents, Interchange fee changes coming, and what that means to consumers, Banks cutting, canceling debit card rewards programs

Published: September 29, 2011


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