JPMorgan Chase is now testing record high ATM fees for noncustomers, including $5 in Illinois and $4 in Texas, according to the Wall Street Journal.

What's behind the higher rates? There's a public explanation and and a less public suspicion. The mainstream explanation for these higher fees is that new regulations like the Dodd-Frank financial reform killed some profitable and unfriendly bank practices, and banks are replacing those lost funds with new fees appearing on our ATM receipts, checking accounts, and so forth. This makes sense.

But there is a quiet, darker suspicion among consumer advocates. They think loud announcements of ATM fees leapfrogging latte prices are designed to provoke consumer backlash against bank reform. Consider that ATM fees generated $7.1 billion in revenue last year, according to consulting firm Oliver Wyman. But $3 billion of that came from banks charging their own customers for using another institution's ATM, according to WSJ. That means ATM fees for noncustomers -- ie what you agree to pay after selecting your withdrawal -- amounts to between one and two percent of banks' total pre-tax operating profit. Still, we're talking about billions of dollars of revenue.

I'm not ready to adjudicate this debate. Suffice it to say that whether or not financial regulation makes $5 withdrawals and checking account fees necessary, it's made them exist, period. We'll see how this play out in Illinois, Texas, and their representatives in Washington.

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