Bank of America move doesnít prompt local banks to charge debit card users

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 30, 2011

By Hugh Fisher
SALISBURY ó Outside the Bank of America on West Innes Street on Friday, customers did their usual transactions at the ATM as the branch office closed.
But some of them werenít happy.
Bank of America customer Judy Wolfe said her 10 years with the bank might come to an end.
She heard the news this week that her bank would start charging debit card users a $5 monthly fee.
ěItís ridiculous,î said Wolfe, who moved to Salisbury this year from New York state.
She said she doesnít cost the bank much money. She banks at the ATM, uses direct deposit and pays her bills online.
Wolfe said the debit card fee would drive her away.
ěYou may as well use a credit card, if youíre going to charge fees like that,î Wolfe said.
Bank of America follows several other large banks that have announced soon-to-start fees for many account holders who use of debit cards.
The popular cash cards have been a cash cow for banks.
But new federal regulations limiting how much they can charge businesses each time a card is swiped have those banks searching for new revenue.
David and Nancy Zimmerman of Salisbury said they werenít impressed.
ěDebit cards are peopleís money in the bank,î David said. ěThey donít require checks, they donít require anybody elseís work to get your money out.î
Nancy questioned whether businesses would still be charged a per-swipe fee when customers started picking up the tab with monthly payments.
The Zimmermans said they would seriously consider closing their Bank of America account.
So did Kevin Cox, who said he uses his debit card all the time.
ěI will move to whoever doesnít charge,î he said.
And if all the banks charged, he said, heíd keep his direct deposit but draw out all of his money every month. ěIíll pay cash,î he said.
Bank of America branch manager Cecilia Ross declined to comment, directing questions to the corporate PR hotline.
Nationwide, response to the fees has been loud and almost universally negative.
The good news for locals is that two major Rowan banks say they will not charge extra to use a debit card.
Reached by phone Friday, F&M Bank President Steve Fisher said customers will not be charged a fee for using their debit cards.
Bruce Jones, president and CEO of Community Bank of Rowan, said by phone his bank will start running ads next week touting the lack of fees.
ěWeíre really going to promote that,î Jones said. ěThatís such a good piece of business.î
Jones said he hadnít heard whether his bankís branches had heard many inquiries about fees, but he said he wouldnít be surprised.
ěAny time that kind of press goes out, everybody gets concerned,î Jones said.
Media reports from the past two days quote both citizens and experts who are blasting banks for the fees.
They see it as unjust to charge customers after American taxpayers bailed out the banking industry to the tune of billions of dollars.
Still, Fisher said, the federal law that limits what banks can charge businesses could leave big banks struggling for cash.
He said those fees helped pay for the computerized system banks use to process those transactions, and for ěmassiveî increases in fraud protection.
And, Fisher said, banks used those fees to subsidize other services. ěThatís where free checking comes from,î he said.
Asked whether he thought the new fees might drive more customers to smaller banks like F&M, Fisher said ětime will tell.î
ěThe simple answer is, thatíd be nice,î Fisher said.
Contact Hugh Fisher via the editorís desk at 704-797-4244.