Chuck Burton/AP/File
Debit card fees: Bank of America plans to start charging customers a $5 monthly debit card fee. The fee will be rolled out starting early in 2012.

Debit card fees: Why Bank of America will charge $5 for debit card use

Debit card fees on the rise: Bank of America to charge $5 for debit card usage. Other banks may follow suit.

In early 2012, Bank of America customers with basic accounts will be charged a $5 monthly fee for shopping with their debit cards. The fee will be charged whether customers choose 'debit' or 'credit' at the point of sale.

ATM usage fees will remain the same, and those customers who do not shop with their debit card will not incur the $5 monthly fee.

Why is Bank of America making this move? It certainly fits a trend: ATM fees have been rising, bounced check fees have been going up, and free checking accounts are fast becoming a thing of the past.

The move is partly prompted by a new federal regulation, starting Oct. 1, that will begin limiting the cut banks can take from merchants at the point of sale. Bank of America is expecting the new lower rate to reduce the revenue that those merchant fees currently bring to the bank. In 2009, those fees amounted to $19 billion in revenue.

So in other words, Bank of America is shifting a part of the fee obligation from merchants to customers.

Sen. Dick Durbin (D) of Illinois responded bluntly to Bank of America's announcement: "After years of raking in excess profits off an unfair and anti-competitive interchange system, Bank of America is trying to find new ways to pad their profits by sticking it to its customers," Senator Durbin said Thursday. "It's overt, unfair and I hope their customers have the final say."

But not all Bank of America customers will be expected to offset the lost revenue. Customers with premium accounts are not expected to incur the new fee.

Bank fees have been changing rapidly in recent years. Back in 2009, 76 percent of checking accounts in the US were free. This year, that number is only 45 percent, according to a study by ATM fees are up an average of $0.07 from last year, and average overdraft fees went up $0.36 in the same time.

But even with these new debit card fees, customers aren't likely to start searching for a new bank. An Associated Press-GfK poll found that if debit card users incurred a $5 fee, 66 percent said they would simply change their payment method.

But increasingly, there may be fewer banks to change to. Wells Fargo and Chase are testing a similar fee schedule in select states. Does this signal the end of free debit card purchasing?

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