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Banks Testing Out More Fees

Last year, the furor over Bank of America’s proposed $5 a month debit card fee slowed some of the efforts by banks to introduce new fees. However, even during that time, some banks were quietly testing out account fees in limited markets. Those market tests are expanding, and banks continue to roll out new fees — especially on checking accounts — gradually.

The new round of fees aren’t as straightforward as a flat monthly fee, though. Instead, banks are instituting account minimums that result in fees if they aren’t met. Keep an eye out for some of the new bank fees [3] that may be coming your way.

Wells Fargo and Bank of America Testing New Fees

Two banks leading the way in testing out new fees are Wells Fargo and Bank of America. Both of these financial institutions offer some version of free checking, but that is beginning to change. Recently, JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon said that it costs a bank $300 a year, on average, to maintain a checking account. Banks think that they can get better value by rolling out new fees and restrictions on the checking accounts.

Right now, Wells Fargo is expanding a test of its fees [4] to include more states. In 2010, Wells Fargo began charging fees on new accounts. Last year, the bank began charging existing customers in certain states for their checking accounts. Now, Wells Fargo is quietly expanding the practice. However, there are ways to avoid the $7 monthly checking account fee on the “Essential” account. You can have the account waived if your daily balance is at least $1,500, or if your monthly direct deposits equal at least $500. You do get a $2 discount for receiving online statements, instead of paper. So far, the gradual roll out has been fairly low-key.

Bank of America is also testing new fees. The debit card fee might have failed, but Bank of America is testing new checking account fees [5] in three different states. Bank of America is trying out different services, and trying programs that waive monthly fees when customers have more products from the institution, maintain minimum balances, or do their banking online. The idea is to reduce the overhead associated with checking accounts — something that banks claim is more important now that there are limits to fees they can charge.

Is Your Bank Rolling Out New Fees?

You need to be careful, reading the fine print on your bank statements, and double checking the information sent to you. Just because you aren’t at Bank of America or Wells Fargo doesn’t mean you’re safe. Even my local credit union recently announced a monthly checking fee. These fees aren’t terribly obvious, though. Instead, they are more laid back. You have to meet certain conditions to avoid the fee. Only if you fail to maintain a certain balance, or neglect to carry out a minimum number of transactions, do you have to pay a fee. But the fee is still there, and the minimum balance is creeping higher.

Before you get too comfortable, verify the fee situation with your bank, and determine whether or not it’s time to make a switch [6].

(Photo: I-5 Design & Manufacture [7])