Editorial: Customers hold the cards

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 6, 2011

Big banks, like elephants, make slow moving, inviting targets. Right now, Bank of America is squarely in the sights of critics following its decision to impose a $5 a month fee for most of its debit-card users, beginning next year.
Jaded by the the subprime mortage debacle and the bailout that saved “too big to fail” institutions, consumers were already in an anti-bank mood. But unlike some other charges bank customers have suffered, such as outrageous overdraft fees and drive-by interest rate hikes, at least this fee is clearcut and easy to understand. Use your debit card to pay for purchases, and you’re going to incur the extra charge.
Actually, BofA customers don’t have to pay the fee. They can pay by check or use a credit card, for instance. Better yet, especially for smaller purchases, they can pay with cash. Using cash, according to consumer advocates, makes us more aware of how much we spend, which can help keep budgets under control. Convenience comes at a cost, and we may not always be aware how the easy swipe of plastic influences spur-of-the-moment purchases.
Finally, Bank of America customers have one other option if they object to the debit fee (and based on the initial reaction, many do). They can take their business elsewhere, such as to a smaller bank or credit union that isn’t charging a similar fee — at least not yet.
That’s the best course when customers are unhappy with a particular business. They can vote with their feet. Or, in this case, with their wallets.