Dian's Column
Dian's Archive


All you need to know about BofA's debit card fees: They don't apply to the wealthy.

By Dian Vujovich

How about that Bank of America. The stink that’s come as a result of this bank announcing it’s going to charge their poorer customers $5 a month if they use their debit cards is making the headlines. And it ought to.

Why, you wonder?

Well, for a couple of reasons: First and foremost, poor Bank of America isn’t as rich as it used to be. Second, because they can.

Reliable sources report that BofA has 57 million customer and small-business accounts and that it’s also the largest U.S. bank when counting deposits. But, thanks to new legislation aimed at transparency and maybe even a little fairness, the fees that banks can charge merchants when customers use their debit cards has been cut about in half.

So, instead of the $19 billion in revenues that banks collected from debit card swipe fees in 2009, they’ll probably bring in only $10 billion. Oh, my heart bleeds.

Of course the hurt could have been much much bigger as it was the Federal Reserve who established the change amount. If they had had their way the cap for swipes would have gone from 44 cents down to 12 cents. Instead, the new formula sets the cap at 21 cents, plus .05 percent of the transaction amount, plus another penny.

That means if someone were to use their debit card for a $38 transaction, as of Oct.1, the swipe charge would be about 24 cents vs. 44 cents. That charge, btw, isn’t visible to the customer because the merchant pays it.

Oh, and this change in swipe fees only relates to debit card use and not credit card use. So because banks have no conscience, in these times of consumer credit worries and concerns expect to hear and see more advertising aimed at promoting customers to use their credit cards more going forward. In other words, if individuals create more personal credit card debt it’s too bad for them. Collecting swipe fees is one hugely profitable source of revenues in the banking industry these days. And we all know it’s making money that banks are all about.

On that money front, BofA’s $5 monthly debit card fees will impact people with basic accounts who keep only a modest balance in them. I’ve heard that a balance of $1500 a month is enough to avoid the fee but haven’t been able to verify that. Student and the premium accounts affluent individuals have are exempted from the charges.

And, the new ruling applies only to banks with $10 billion or more in assets.

If the five-buck monthly fee applies to you and you’re no fan of it, check around. Citibank is one of the few big banks currently not imposing a monthly debt card fee.

But if you’re really savvy, you’ll take advantage of the debit cards offered by the brokerage firm(s) you do business with. One example: There’s no charge when using ETrade’s debit card.

To read more articles, please visit the column archive.

[ top ]