The latest third-quarter earnings reports from this week confirm that banks are struggling to make money the old-fashioned way, by lending money to consumers and businesses. The main reason: interest rates are at historic lows. That makes it harder for banks to charge high rates on loans.
New rules have also curtailed various kinds of traditional fees, costing banks billions in lost income. These fees include overdraft charges on checking accounts and fees for making late payments on credit cards.
So, many of them are making up the difference with fees that aren’t covered by the new rules. Bank of America Corp., which reported results Tuesday, has set off a firestorm over its plan to charge customers $5 a month for using their debit cards. Even President Barack Obama has taken the bank to task.
On Tuesday, Consumers Union became the latest to express outrage. The group urged customers to switch to other banks or credit unions if big banks refuse to drop the fees.
“This debit card fee just adds insult to injury,” Norma Garcia, director of Consumers Union’s financial services program, said. “It’s unfair for the banks to stick consumers with a monthly fee just to use their own money.”
Making money in the traditional way is becoming tougher for banks. In an effort to make up lost revenue, banks are rolling out new fees across the board.
Citi will charge $20 a month starting in December to some customers who don’t keep a balance of $15,000 or more in their combined checking, savings and investment accounts or loan balances.
Wells Fargo & Co. started testing a $3 monthly fee for debit cards Friday in New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, Washington and Georgia.
JPMorgan Chase & Co. tested a $3 monthly debit card fee in February in Wisconsin and Georgia.
SunTrust Banks Inc. of Georgia introduced a $5 debit card fee for customers with basic checking accounts in June.
Regions Financial Corp. of Alabama introduced a $4 fee for debit cards in October.
The fees have become a flashpoint of anger and frustration among the growing numbers of anti-Wall Street protesters. They come in the midst of a tough economic climate where millions of people are unemployed. Some say the fees are a callous response by banks that were bailed out during the financial crisis.