Bank fee angers customers

Published 9:32 pm Monday, October 3, 2011

Some of Bank of America’s local customers still are steaming over last week’s announcement that the bank will begin charging a fee for debit card use.

“I think it’s bull …,” Charles Rainey III said of the new $5 monthly fee.

Many of his fellow customers agreed.

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“I’m really angry about it,” said Ginny Gehgan, who is considering switching to a credit union. “I don’t think I should have to pay.”

Bank of America, one of the world’s largest financial institutions, made the announcement last week. The bank is trying to recoup losses expected as a result of federally imposed limits on the fees merchants pay to debit-card companies.

“The economics of offering a debit card have changed with recent interchange regulations,” said Betty Riess, a spokeswoman for Bank of America. “This new fee allows us to continue to offer the convenience of a debit card with the full range of added features customers have come to expect, such as zero-liability fraud protection, overdraft protection, record-keeping, fraud monitoring and savings programs.”

Customers will be charged the $5 fee only for months in which they make purchases using their debit card. If they do not use the card during a given month, the fee will not be charged.

“The $5 is a flat fee, so if a customer uses the debit card for purchases one time or 50 times during the month, it’s still $5,” Riess said.

In addition, customers can use Bank of America automated teller machines without a fee.

Customers with one of a number of different types of premier accounts, such as Platinum Privileges, Premium Solutions, Campus Edge and Advantage, will not have to pay the fee, Riess added.

“We want to reward customers who bring more of their business to the bank,” she said.

Riess also noted that Bank of America is not unique in charging a debit card fee.

“There are other banks that are either piloting or beginning to implement a fee,” she said.

That’s little consolation to a few customers who were banking at the West Washington Street branch on Monday.

“It’s not right, because you can’t hardly find places that don’t charge you,” said Joyce Hoadley. “It’s your money you make, and they’re taking it.”

Another customer, Dawyne Perry, said he hates the idea of a fee.

“Why charge a person money to use their money?” he asked.

Riess said the new fee would begin with a phased rollout early next year, though she could not say when Virginia customers would be affected. All customers will receive written notice 30 days in advance of the fee’s implementation, she said.