Bank of America raising the bar for avoiding debit-card fee

Charlotte ObserverOctober 20, 2011 

As Bank of America's checking account options go through a transition, avoiding the $5 debit-card fee rolling out next year is set to get harder.

In essence, customers will need $20,000 with the bank to avoid the fee instead of the $5,000 they'd need under options available today.

In statements to the media, the bank has said customers can avoid the fee if they have an "Advantage" checking account. In many parts of the country, including Charlotte, it's relatively easy to qualify: you need only to have $5,000 in checking or a linked savings account.

But the Advantage account is going away, bank spokeswoman Anne Pace said Wednesday. New checking account packages now being tested in three states will spread across the country at some point next year, Pace said.

The bank will work with customers with existing checking accounts to find out what package is best for them, Pace said.

After that, the easiest way to avoid the fee will be to qualify for "Premium solutions," which requires a $20,000 combined balance between deposits and investment accounts. It also comes with other benefits.

"It's certainly misleading," said C. Britt Beemer, CEO of America's Research Group. "A lot of consumers out there, especially on the lower end, don't keep much of a balance."

The debit-card fee is also waived for customers who have a mortgage with the bank.

The debit-card fee was announced Sept. 29. The bank said it was a response to new federal regulations as part of the Dodd-Frank financial overhaul law.

Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan said Tuesday in a conference call with analysts that the fee was also a way to encourage people to bring more business to the bank.

He also said "a lot of people" who have all of their "banking relationships" with BofA will avoid the fee.

Pace said he was likely referring to people who have mortgages.

Bank of America's overall mortgage business lost money in the third quarter. But the company's new home loans made a "modest" profit, executives said in a presentation to analysts. The losses came from loans brought in during the Countrywide acquisition in 2008.

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