Some Americans are outraged that Bank of America intends to charge its customers a $5 fee for using their debit card. And simply switching banks might not help: others are expected to follow. While frustration over yet another bank fee is understandable, this one should surprise no one. Congress acted to cap the debit fees that banks could charge retailers last year, and banks are reacting by directly charging their customers a portion of these lost fees to make up the difference. The move could mean the end of the debit card.
The Logic Is Simple
Bank of America is actually being quite straightforward about its rationale for instituting this new fee: it blames the government. A provision from last summer's financial regulation bill promoted by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) capped the fees that banks can charge retailers when customers pay with debit cards. The new rule goes into effect on Saturday. Andrew R. Johnson at the Wall Street Journal reports:
Bank of America has said it expects the caps, which the industry lobbied against for months, to erase $2 billion in revenue annually.
"The economics of offering a debit card have changed with recent regulations," a spokeswoman for Bank of America said Thursday.
The only thing surprising about this news is that anyone Congress was so blind to reality that they expected anything different. Did they really believe that banks would just shrug when their revenues declined by billions of dollars? Since they can't get as much money from customers indirectly through debit interchange fees paid by retailers any longer, they're going the direct route and charging customers for using debit.