Bank of America plans to offer an online bank account that charges an $8.95 monthly fee if a customer receives a paper statement or goes to a teller, as it looks for ways to make up for income lost because of new regulations. The new account will steer customers toward using ATMs and online banking rather than branches. The bank is also phasing out its free checking program for college students. Its other checking accounts carry monthly fees unless the customer maintains a certain balance or meets other requirements.One problem with this initiative is that Bank of America already charges excessive fees. Customers have told us that its famous "$35 cup of coffee" fee, the overdraft charge it assesses on unwitting consumers who overdraw on their checking account by a few pennies, is still being charged in July, even though the bank announced that it would drop it in June.
But this new account from the country's largest bank is most likely the harbinger of a broader trend of banks charging more fees on checking accounts. Many banks have floated the idea of getting rid of free checking in light of new rules that limit overdraft fees and proposed legislation that would lessen the interchange fees banks can charge on credit card transactions and raise their FDIC assessments, among other cost increases. But few banks that we know of have actually acted on this idea. According to the Charlotte Observer, Wells Fargo eliminated free checking for new bank customers on July 1, introducing a $5 monthly fee on its most basic account. That fee is waived if a customer meets certain account requirements, such as keeping a high enough minimum balance.
David Owen, Bank of America payments product executive, told the Charlotte Observer that the new ebanking account is a response to customer preferences. "How they're thinking about banking has evolved and changed through the economic cycle - how, when, where, why," Owen said. "One segment of customers is telling us (to) let them bank on their terms. They're very comfortable with the ATM, with text banking, with mobile banking." But surely these customers did not ask the bank to charge them for speaking to a teller or receiving paper statements.