Banking fee-for-all ranklesKayla Hovland was worried about Bank of America’s plan to charge customers $5 a month to use debit cards. To her, that fee — just scrapped — would have been a fee too far.
By: By Helmut Schmidt, Forum Communications Co., The Jamestown Sun
FARGO — Kayla Hovland was worried about Bank of America’s plan to charge customers $5 a month to use debit cards. To her, that fee — just scrapped — would have been a fee too far.
“You know that every other bank will want to start that as well. I am sorry, but that is $60 a year that a bank will be taking from me. That is equivalent to a half month’s food for me,” the Moorhead, Minn., woman said Thursday.
“I, for one, and am not excited about how the banks are making their money nowadays. Whatever happened to honesty? All people are for nowadays is greed,” Hovland said.
Former Fargoan Mike Lockwood also has his fill with myriad banking fees.
“Every year it gets worse! If I treated my customers at my business this way I would have no customers!” Lockwood said. “… Just today I have noticed I am now paying a $20 annual fee for my Ready Reserve at Wells Fargo. When will it STOP?!, asks Hovland, who now lives in Elbow Lake, Minn.
There’s confusion, too.
“I think it is insane what the banks can charge. Why is it some banks don’t and some do?” asks Lorie Chastain, who works at a Fargo investment firm.
New or increasing fees at big banks have spawned a Facebook movement called Bank Transfer Day, which encourages consumers to move their banking to non-profit credit unions, with a target of this Saturday to at least start the process.
The backlash to attempts to add fees to debit card use has also gotten major banks Region’s Financial, SunTrust, Wells Fargo and Chase Bank, to pull the plug on those fees, the Associated Press reports.
Locally, officials at credit unions and banks that work without fees on checking accounts or debit cards, say the fee-for-all at mega-banks pushes customers into their arms.
Gate City Bank and State Bank and Trust heavily advertise no-fee services.
Gate City has free checking (with a minimum balance), no monthly fee for debit cards, and refunds all ATM fees, said Steve Swiontek, chairman of the board, president and CEO.
Gate City has automatically refunded more than $6.5 million in ATM fees since 2006, Swiontek said, something unique in this part of the country.
“People are pretty sensitive about being assessed a fee to get money out of their own account when they use an ATM,” he said.
Free checking also draws customers from big banks.
“This will be a record year for us in checking account openings,” Swiontek said.
The fee-less life certainly hooked Trevor Brucker of Fargo.
“I recently opened a checking and savings account at Wells Fargo as a second bank to separate funds for a vacation. They have fees for everything: ATM fees, transfer fees, minimum balance fees. I am closing my account ASAP and staying with Gate City as my primary bank,” Brucker said.
At State Bank and Trust in Fargo, board chairman and CEO Richard Solberg is adamant that checking will remain free.
“A lot of banks are starting to charge fees. And we are choosing not to. It’s working well for us. We’re getting lots of new business,” Solberg said.
“We’re pleased with that. Our intentions are to go forward without charging fees for a long, long, long, time,” he said.
Jan Welch, manager of the downtown Fargo branch of United Savings Credit Union in Fargo, says Bank Transfer Day has really been going on for six months, as she’s seen two to three new customers a week from big banks.
“I would probably say I’ve heard more complaints about one or two of the big banks that we have locally here. More complaints in the last six months than I have in the last five years. People are just tired of it,” Welch said.
“They’re tired of feeling like they’re just a way for the banks to make money. And everyone wants to feel special when they walk in the door, and that’s what we try to do,” Welch said.
Impersonal handling of business turns people off, agrees Nick Woodard, branch manager of Fargo’s First Community Credit Union
“Here you’re a member. We know you by name when you walk in the door. That type of small-town service that people are still looking for,” is what a smaller institution can offer, Woodard said.
Not everyone believes the fees charged at banks to simply be an attempt to gouge customers.
Howard Harmon, an account executive at a Fargo firm, said the conveniences of modern banking have costs, too.
“Let’s not forget in order for the banks to offer many of the services we have grown to expect like Internet banking, mobile banking, ATMs and debit cards it costs the bank money and like any other business they have to cover these costs. As we expect more in services it’s fair to expect there may be fees,” Harmon said. “… Banks are like any other business from the standpoint they need to be profitable to stay in business. … In addition banks are one of the most regulated businesses in the US, the government has created many of these fees by dictating how the banks can generate income.”
A spokeswoman said U.S. Bank has not seen any appreciable loss in business to Bank Transfer Day.
“We’ve not seen any sort of dip,” said Nicole Garrison-Sprenger, vice president of corporate public relations for U.S. Bancorp.
“While some customers may choose to move their accounts, we know there are legions of others that find tremendous value in banking with us and we deeply appreciate their business. U.S. Bank is known for principled leadership and support of our customers before during and after the economic downturn. We continue to lend, grow jobs and invest in the community, and our customers recognize us for being a better bank,” she said.
“In terms of fees, we don’t charge a monthly fee for debit card use, and we have no immediate plans to do so,” Garrison-Sprenger said.
Requests for comment from Bank of the West and Wells Fargo Bank were not returned.
Helmut Schmidt is a reporter
at The Forum of Fargo-
Moorhead, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.