Moral Low Ground


Bank of America Drops Plans for $5 Debit Card Fee

In September, we told you how Bank of America (BOA), the nation’s second- largest by deposits, was planning on charging customers to use their own money with a $5 monthly debit card fee. Said fee would be waved for clients with more than $20,000 in their accounts, Bank of America mortgages or Merrill Lynch brokerage accounts, stoking concerns that the monthly charge would affect mostly lower-income customers.

Well, whether because of customer backlash, the practices of competitors, the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ movement, common decency or, likely, a combination of all the above (save for perhaps the last item), Bank of America has now announced that it is scrapping the $5 fee before it even goes into effect in January.

Bloomberg reports that after JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo decided not to charge debit card fees, BOA found itself alone among the nation’s five leading retail banks in doing so. Citigroup and U.S. Bancorp had previously rejected debit fees; SunTrust and Regions Bank stopped charging them on October 31.

David Darnell, co-chief operating officer at BOA, told Bloomberg that the bank had reached its decision after listening “to our customers very carefully.”

In corporate-speak, that means that BOA determined the fees would do more harm than good to their bottom line. Protests against the fee took place in Los Angeles and Boston; a woman in Washington collected a petition against the fee filled with 300,000 signatures. Legions of former BOA (and other big bank) customers shut down their accounts and moved their money to local banks or credit unions, as urged for more than a year by the Move Your Money Project and others.

BOA’s reversal comes amid growing consumer backlash against perceived (and very real) corporate greed, embodied in the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ movement. While critics claim the protests, now in their third month, have accomplished nothing, the national economic discourse has certainly been affected, with prominent Republicans who were once loth to do so now openly engaging in conversations about economic inequality and injustice.

“Consumers across America have a much larger voice in this process today than they did even a few weeks ago,” Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) told Bloomberg. Durbin has been a strong advocate of fee caps on banks.

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