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Change.org Petition Plays Part in BoA Debit Fee Reversal

posted by Nathalie Martin

In early October of 2011, Bank of America announced that it would begin charging its customers an additional $5 users fee for using its debit cards. In my financial literacy class the weekend after the announcement, some students were resigned to it, some furious, but we all vowed to switch banks if we banked at BofA. Yet we all also knew what would happen next, if history was any indication. Other banks would follow suit and eventually we’d all get charged the fee, which would just go up even more over time. It turns out, at least for now, the ending is happier. People mobilized around recent college grad Molly Katchpole’s online petition requesting a reversal of the fees.The petition was brilliant in its simplicity, stating simply this:

Greetings,
I'm writing to express my deep concern over Bank of America's decision to charge customers $5 a month to use their debit cards when making purchases.

The American people bailed out Bank of America during a financial crisis the banks helped create. You paid zero dollars in federal income tax last year. And now your banks profiting, raking in $2 billion in profits last quarter alone. How can you justify squeezing another $60 a year from your debit card customers? This is despicable.

The American people bailed out Bank of America during a financial crisis the banks helped create. You paid zero dollars in federal income tax last year. And now your banks profiting, raking in $2 billion in profits last quarter alone. How can you justify squeezing another $60 a year from your debit card customers? This is despicable.

American consumers can't afford these additional fees. We reject any claims by BofA that this latest fee is somehow necessary.

Please, do the right thing. Reverse your decision to charge customers $5 each month for using their debit cards to make purchases.

[Your name]

Party because of the petition, Bank of America announced on November 1, 2011 that it would not move forward with implementing the debit card fee. BofA co-chief operating officer David Darnell stated in a press release that “We have listened to our customers very closely over the last few weeks and recognize concern with our proposed debit usage fee. Our customers’ voices are most important to us. As a result, we are not currently charging the fee and will not be moving forward with any additional plans to do so.”

Hundreds of thousands of consumers joined the movement to push Bank of America, and its competitors, to eliminate its $5 debit card fee. In less than one month, Bank of America went from announcing the fee, to reeling under huge pressure from the media, Congress and Change.org. When Bank of America announced that it was restructuring the fee, Molly and others continued to push the Bank until it agreed to end the fee for all customers.

Pretty amazing for Molly and the over 306,000 other customers who signed her petition. Using Change.org, Molly was able to recruit hundreds of thousands of people across the country to join her in successfully challenging one of America’s most powerful financial institutions – and also in influencing the behavior of other major banks.

Obviously, Molly’s petition was not the only expression of customer complaint. Plenty of others were mad too. Andy Borowitz, of the Wonderful Borowitz Report, posted this spoof letter about the fee reversal:

NOVEMBER 2, 2011
A Letter from Bank of America
An Apology to Our Customers

NEW YORK (The Borowitz Report) – The following letter was sent today by Bank of America to all of its debit card customers:

Dear Valued Customer:

As most of you probably know by now, last month we instituted a $5 monthly fee for all of our debit card users.  To say that what followed this decision was a shitstorm would be a massive understatement.

Considering that just three years earlier taxpayers had bailed us out with billions of their hard-earned dollars, it’s understandable that Bank of America was compared to a person who, as he is pulled from a burning building, turns and kicks the fireman in the nuts.

That’s why we are writing to you today with a simple message: “Our bad.”  And to tell you that we are refunding the $5 to you, effective immediately.  All you have to do is pay a simple, one-time $10 refund fee.

You can receive your refund online, or pick it up at your nearest Bank of America branch, where a teller will hand the money directly to you for a simple, one-time $15 handling fee.

If you do visit your branch, feel free to use any of our services, including our state of the art ballpoint pens and deposit slips.  (Prices on request.)

Again, accept our apologies for instituting the debit card fee.  We have learned our lesson, and we make this solemn promise: next time we squeeze money from you, we'll do it in a way you won’t notice.

Sincerely,

Bank of America

While yesterday’s New York Times says banks will always find ways to charge us more anyway, I am posting this to encourage consumer to speak out.  In this case, the American consumer actually stemmed this tide.  How inspiring! 

Comments

I'm all in favor of people speaking their minds but, based on what I read of Ms. Katchpole's situation, it is unlikely she paid much in the way of federal income taxes either, and also inaccurate that "the American people", especially to the extent she implies that she contributed any money to the task, bailed out Bank of America. There is probably some complex Germanic word for when someone gets up on her moral high horse when she's done nothing on her own to claim the moral high ground, and her complaint is really just an expression of her economic self-interest. If I knew what it was, I would use it.

I will point out once again, as I've done before on this blog, that the consumer is being royally screwed every day by the banks just by using their debit or credit card, even without a fee. It just isn't obvious to them. I own a business and I pay anywhere from 1.6% to 4% of EVERY sale done with either a debit or credit card.

Say I sell a $3000 mattress set to you and you pay with a Platinum Rewards Visa. The bank will get a $120 cut for simply processing the transaction (costs them pennies). Compare that to the 10-cent charge banks used to levy on the client for processing a check. That's a 120,000% increase for essentially the same task.(Yes, that's right, PER CENT).

The American consumer would howl like they'd had salt rubbed into a wound if a bank charged them a dollar to process a check (or even 10 cents!). But our nation would be far better off if that was the case. Then banks would not have the cash to buy our legislative process, thereby entirely corrupting our democracy.

To keep consumers (even those who pay their cards off every month) hooked on their cards, the banks will 'reward' you with 'cash back' from the original 4 points they scored on the transaction. Generous of them, right? Maybe the mafia would still be around today if they had tried something like that.

The big banks who process credit/debit cards have morphed into a legalized mafia. They get a cut of every sale in America every day via the merchant taking the card. Think about the kind of money this generates on a daily basis. Oh, and I forgot to mention the swipe fees and the other fees that banks arbitrarily add whenever they feel like they're not paying their CEO enough money. The merchant controls nothing ~ we don't even know what we will be paying to the credit card company when we swipe the card! You only know the charge when you get the bill for processing. And get this: it all has to be done electronically. The banks don't even want to talk to you unless they have electronic access to your bank account.

And oh, by the way, as a merchant who must make a profit or I'm bankrupt, I have to pass all these charges along to you. Make no mistake about it, in the end, the consumer pays the charge, not the business. It's simply another business expense for us.

Protest may have had the desired effect of keeping current BofA customers with BofA. In the long-term though, you have not diversified the money to smaller banks. The less money BofA has to throw around, the less you have issues with the "too big to fail" symptoms. I think the protesters were short sighted in protesting and should have just moved their accounts to smaller banks and credit unions.

Why would you stay with a bank that is so disconnected with their customers that a $5 a month debit card usage fee would even be announced?

I urge everyone that banks with BofA to find better alternatives. We now bank with PerkStreet and are extremely happy. We get 1% cash back on our debit card, and 2% back if we keep a $5k monthly minimum.

Mt,

I doubt Ms. Katchpole, or most any other college student for that matter, paid any income taxes that contributed to the bailout. Many students will not even pay federal taxes after graduation. Instead , they will face a barren job market and a massive student debt that will take decades to pay off.

It is the young college student who has lost the most through this financial catastrophe and are the ones most entitled to get on their horse.

I don't think the petition had a thing to do with it.

The $5/month debit card fee plan was one of the most idiotic moves made by the management of a major company in many years. It is going to a Harvard B-school case study for years to come. It simply took them a awhile to realize it. Talk about out of touch. It would have been good if they had continued with it.

Meanwhile, do you really think these guys give a flying flock what someone says in a petition? Why don't people grow up and stop treating these criminals like they are the Swedish government or something? They don't deserve the respect of receiving a heartfelt petition.

Anyone who banks with Wells, BofA, Chase, Citi is simply a sucker, unless you enjoy paying $200 per year in hidden fees for the privilege of being their "customer" -- or should I say prisoner. Just move your account to a membership-based, cooperative credit union (where no one has any INCENTIVE to exploit you at every turn) and stop getting exploited. Duh. Forget the frigging petitions.

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