Banks tack on stealth charges

Even as Bank of America and other major lenders have backed away from charging customers to use their debit cards, many banks have been quietly imposing other new fees.

Need to replace a lost debit card? Bank of America charges $5 — or $20 for rush delivery.

Deposit money with a mobile phone? At U.S. Bancorp, it is now 50 cents a check.

Want cash wired to your account? Starting in December, that will cost $15 for each incoming domestic payment at TD Bank.

Facing a backlash from an angry public and heightened scrutiny from regulators, banks are turning to all sorts of fees that fly under the radar.

"Banks tried the in-your-face fee with debit cards, and consumers said enough," said Alex Matjanec, a co-founder of MyBankTracker.com. "What most people don't realize is that they have been adding new charges or taking fees that have always existed and increased them, or are making them harder to avoid."

Banks can still earn a profit on most checking accounts. But they are under intense pressure to make up an estimated $12 billion a year of income that vanished with the passage of rules curbing lucrative overdraft charges and lowering debit card swipe fees.

In addition, with lending at anemic levels and interest rates close to zero, banks are struggling to find attractive places to lend out or invest all the deposits they hold. That poses an additional $8 billion drag.

For consumers, the result is a quiet creep of new charges and higher fees for everything from cash withdrawals at ATMs to wire payments, paper statements and, in some cases, even the overdraft charges that lawmakers hoped to ratchet down. What's more, banks are raising minimum account balances and adding other requirements so it is harder to qualify for fee waivers.

Bank officials are adamant that they have been transparent about the price increases and are providing ample ways for customers to avoid the charges, like maintaining a minimum balance or signing up for direct deposit.

Banks may also be betting that consumers won't notice the quiet creep of existing fees.

New fees will cover a small part of the gap in profits. Banks are also hoping that new products catch on. Some are steering lower-income customers to prepaid cards, which were not affected by the reduction in debit card swipe fees. TD Bank officials say one of their hottest products is a simple checking account with no minimum balance that has a $2.99 monthly fee.

Banks tack on stealth charges 11/16/11 [Last modified: Thursday, November 17, 2011 7:44am]

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