UPDATE (4:47pm): BofA has sent me a news release stating that they have “no plans” to raise fees on existing customers and haven’t yet decided whether to raise fees on new customers, although they are testing the latter in Arizona, Georgia and Massachusetts.
ORIGINAL POST (earlier today): Reporters are calling about BofA’s proposed new checking account fees, “Ed, what does it mean?” Meanwhile the CFPB says checking accounts can be “complex and confusing” and announced it is now ready and waiting for your checking account complaints. It is also investigating overdraft fee practices.
Big banks have always raised fees, made it harder to avoid fees and invented new fees. The difference after the $5/month debit card fee debacle that hit Bank of America last fall is this: Let’s see if the banks finally realize that fees need to offer value, rather than slap consumers in the face, because consumers now understand that they have choices and can and will vote with their feet.
Until these speculated BofA fees roll out more broadly we won’t know whether they are more slaps in the face or add value. You can avoid them if you shop around. When possible, bank at a credit union not at a bank. Bank at a community bank, not a big bank. See our Bank Fee Tips.
As the big bank fee frenzy continues, the CFPB is ready for your checking account complaints, starting today.
“Almost nine out of ten American households have at least one checking account, and many also maintain a savings account. Yet, despite the fact that they are commonplace, bank accounts can be complex and confusing. Consumers can file a bank account complaint with the CFPB using the Bureau’s website, or by mail, fax, or telephone. The CFPB’s U.S.-based call centers handle calls with little or no wait times, provide services for the hearing- and speech-impaired, and have the ability to assist the public in 187 languages.”
U.S. PIRG has also encouraged the CFPB to make all bank account fees more transparent and to require that bank fees on the Internet be machine-readable smart disclosures, so groups such as PIRG and others can easily download fee schedules and create localized comparison shopping guides.
Reporters often ask me, “if overdraft and debit fees are restricted, will banks simply turn to other newer fees?” Some might. But others may grow more efficient and compete in the marketplace based on lower price and better quality. That will temper the impact of any fee increases by others. And with the CFPB making bank prices more transparent and making it easier to shop around, consumers will be more aware of choices and choose more wisely, too. The CFPB is about making markets work.
More on overdraft fees, confusing checking accounts and why we need the new CFPB is here in our July 2011 report Ten Reasons We Need The CFPB Now. How to avoid bank fees? See our Bank Fee Tips. My previous bank fee blog.
Senior Director, Federal Consumer Program, U.S. PIRG Education Fund
Ed oversees U.S. PIRG’s federal consumer program, helping to lead national efforts to improve consumer credit reporting laws, identity theft protections, product safety regulations and more. Ed is co-founder and continuing leader of the coalition, Americans For Financial Reform, which fought for the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010, including as its centerpiece the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. He was awarded the Consumer Federation of America's Esther Peterson Consumer Service Award in 2006, Privacy International's Brandeis Award in 2003, and numerous annual "Top Lobbyist" awards from The Hill and other outlets. Ed lives in Virginia, and on weekends he enjoys biking with friends on the many local bicycle trails.