If you haven't already heard, banks are starting to charge customers when they use their debit cards, including two with branches in Gig Harbor.
Bank of America plans to start charging $5 a month for debit card usage in early 2012, the Huffington Post and other news outlets reported Thursday. On Oct. 14, Wells Fargo will start testing a similar $3 charge to customer checking accounts in Washington and four other states, according to the Wall Street Journal.
The fees will only apply in months when customers use their cards to make purchases. They won’t be triggered by ATM transactions. The news reports also said that most premium accounts would be exempt as well.
The moves by BofA and Wells Fargo come as new federal limits on debit card swipe fees are about to go into effect. They join the growing number of U.S. banks that are looking to recoup the resulting loss in revenue by paring back debit-reward programs, adding new fees and raising balance minimums for free checking.
Questions remain on the specifics of the new fees. I asked my BofA teller for more information on Thursday when I went into the Gig Harbor branch on Pt. Fosdick to deposit a check. She said the staff there had only been informed of the change late in the afternoon and that more details would be coming later.
What was clear was that even a single purchase made in a month with a debit card would trigger the $5 fee. Less clear was to what extent premium accounts and ATM transactions would be exempted. She indicated that only debit card use at BofA ATM's would avoid the fee.
My conversation with the teller also provided some insight into how BofA intends to explain the new debit card fee to its customers. It's like when you join the YMCA, she said. You pay additional to take an exercise class or use a personal trainer.
In other words, customer checking accounts will still be free under BofA's new policy. The new fee will reflect the add-on benefit of being able to use a debit card for your purchases.