Some Big Banks Back Down From Debit-Card Fee

Bank of America triggered outrage among customers last month when it announced plans to impose a $5 monthly fee next year for using a debit card. Even President Barack Obama weighed in, saying banks shouldn't take advantage of their customers.

But other big banks are not following in the steps of the nation's No. 2 bank. And now Bank of America itself seems to be wavering in its resolve.

The Wall Street Journal reported Friday that JPMorgan Chase & Co., which recently surpassed BofA to become the nation's biggest bank by assets, has decided it will not charge a fee to customers who use their debit cards to make purchases. The decision was made after eight months of testing, according to the story, which cited "a person familiar with the bank's plans."

Wells Fargo also announced late Friday it is canceling its planned five-state pilot of a monthly $3 fee for users of its debit cards as a response to customer feedback.

Several other banks, including Citigroup and Bancorp, also have decided against charging the fee.

Reuters reported late Friday that Bank of America is "is likely to allow many customers to avoid the fee by taking measures such as maintaining minimum balances, having paychecks direct deposited or using Bank of America credit cards."

Under earlier plans, customers might have needed balances totaling $20,000 across all their Bank of America accounts to avoid the fee, Reuters said. The Reuters story also was attributed to an unidentified "person familiar with the bank's plans."

Bank of America and others have said new debit-card fees are needed to recoup income because of a law that went into effect Oct. 1, cutting in half the amount banks can charge merchants for debit-card transactions. Merchants have long been vocal about being charged too much to accept debit cards.

SunTrust and Regions Financial have been among the banks saying they will charge a fee.

None of the banks backing down from imposing the fee say it's because of the brouhaha over the announcement by Bank of America.

"Unlike many of our competitors, we will not charge fees that discourage use or make it unreasonably expensive to take advantage of the tools and services that consumers say are important for managing their finances," Citi said in a statement last month. "The bottom line is that customers don't want to pay to use their debit card."

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