Bank of America's debit card fee draws politicians' ire

The Charlotte ObserverOctober 5, 2011 

Politicians have seized on Bank of America's newly announced $5 debit card fee, using it as an example of what they consider corporate greed at a time when populist anger against banks and Wall Street is on the rise.

For a second straight day, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., railed against the Charlotte-based bank and encouraged customers to switch banks. President Barack Obama, too, has said such fees constitute mistreatment of customers.

And now U.S. Rep. Brad Miller, D-N.C., has introduced a bill aimed at making it easier to leave big banks. He contends that unlike in most industries, banks are able to make it difficult to close accounts even if customers are unhappy with their service.

"The biggest banks have not worried about that," he said Tuesday. "They act like they have monopoly power."

Bank of America, however, points to federal regulations that it maintains made the new fee necessary. Bank officials also have touted their debit cards as a secure method of payment and said they have been transparent about the costs, though they had no comment Tuesday on Miller's bill.

The eight-page bill, titled the "Freedom and Mobility in Consumer Banking Act," would guarantee that consumers could close a bank account regardless of balance, prohibit banks from charging a fee to do so and force banks to close accounts within 48 hours of a request.

The bill, filed Tuesday, also would require banks to accept most account closure requests in person, over the phone or electronically.

"As megabanks flirt with menus of new fees, an increasing number of Americans will want to switch banks," said Miller, who serves on the House Committee on Financial Services, in a statement. "That is the way things work in a competitive, free market as unrepentant banks are still trying to rake in vulgar profits from their customers."

Bank of America, the largest U.S. bank by deposits, announced last week that many debit card customers would soon have to pay a $5 fee for each month the card is used. ATM withdrawals do not count.

SunTrust also has rolled out a $5 checking account fee, and Wells Fargo and JPMorgan Chase are testing $3 debit fees in some markets.

More than 125,000 people have signed an online petition at asking Bank of America to drop the $5 fee, and complaints have poured in via social media like Twitter and Facebook.

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