Banks pull the plug on free checking

Visa credit card in wallet

Bill Radke: After more than a decade of luring us in with free checking accounts, Bank of America and other banks are planning to pull back from that service. That's according to this morning's Wall Street Journal. Marketplace's Gregory Warner joins us live to talk about that. Good morning.

Gregory Warner: Good morning.

Radke: Gregory, these banks, they warned us they were going to do this, right?

Warner: Well that's right, and it comes down to overdraft fees. Because in a couple of weeks now, some new laws will make overdraft protection an opt-in program. Meaning your bank can't fine you for overcharging your debit card unless they get your permission. And that's what banks are waiting for, because if people don't give their permission, banks say they're out $40 billion that they get from those fees, and they've got to make up the difference.

Radke: Well does free checking really cost the banks all that much?

Warner: Well banks say it does add up, the administrative fees and customer service. But really the thing is that free checking, which hit in the 90s brought, a lot of younger and lower-income customers in the door. I mean I got my first checking account in the 90s, and what the bank was hoping was that then I would take out investments or a CD or home loan with that bank. And that didn't happen; not as a rule. Greg McBride analyzes consumer financial issues for Bankrate.com:

GREG McBRIDE: The problem is that if you offer free checking, and the consumers that come through the door not only are not opening up other products and services but are not underwriting the cost of the account through overdrafts, then it becomes a loss leader for the bank.

Radke: So Gregory, does that mean if you lose free checking, the bank loses you as a customer?

Warner: I don't think I'm the most important customer to my bank, no. But I can probably keep my free checking if I got a mortgage along with it, or if I just want free checking and nothing else, that's still out there too -- there's credit unions and smaller community banks offering it.

Radke: Marketplace's Gregory Warner. Thank you.

Warner: Thank you.

About the author

Gregory Warner is a senior reporter covering the economics and business of healthcare for the entire Marketplace portfolio.

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