Steve Chiotakis: JPMorgan Chase has decided not to charge a monthly fee for its debit cards. Bank analysts say it looks like other major banks will follow that example. They’ve been watching Bank of America get pummeled with consumer complaints after it announced plans for a $5 a month fee.
Jean Anne Fox is director of financial services with the Consumer Federation of America. She’s with us now from New York to talk about it. Hey Jean.
Jean Anne Fox: Hi.
Chiotakis: I think we know why JPMorgan did this. I think the question now is: what are they going to do to make up for it? I mean, they really wanna raise some money, right?
Fox: Well, banks are looking for lots of ways to make money from their customers — they’re raising fees, they’re raising the minimum balances, they’re raising what you pay per month if you can’t jump through all the hoops to avoid monthly fees. So yeah, banks are on the lookout for revenue.
Chiotakis: Is there a threshold, Jean, you think, that people will accept these kinds of fees? I mean, they know banks are businesses, right? That they have to make money.
Fox: Sure. And we supported explicit, upfront fees that consumers can see when they’re opening a bank account and they can decide if they want to pay it. We’ve been particularly alarmed about the “gotcha” fees that show up on the back end — such as over-drought or deposit item return fees. Fees that you don’t expect to rack up, you don’t know you’re incurring them at the time, and that make banking really expensive.
Chiotakis: Why do you think there wasn’t this backlash with ATM machines, when they started charging, you know — a buck, or two or three bucks a pop — to get money?
Fox: There was a concerted campaign against what were called “foreign ATM fees.” The U.S. public interest research group surveyed, and blasted, and put out information about that for quite a while.
Chiotakis: Do you think that the backlash on these debit card fees will go away, and they’ll implement them later?
Fox: I think the debit card fee struck people as sort of the last straw — that it was a good, easy to understand, objectionable kind of thing. But banks change their fees all the time. You’ll get an addendum with your bank account agreement; generally it’s in the form of a boring looking piece of paper in the bank statement.
So I would think that banks are trying a lot of different things to find ways to bring in more revenue, and consumers need help in being good shoppers. And I would think that the Consumer Financial Protection bureau has a role to play here.
Chiotakis: Director of financial services with the Consumer Federation of America. Jean, thank you.
Fox: You’re welcome.