because they're on FIRE...

July 2, 2009
Bank Fees Rise as Lenders Try to Offset Losses

By ERIC DASH

Bounced check: $32. Stop-payment: $30. A.T.M. charge: as high as $3.
Even now, after all those bailouts, banks never seem to tire of dipping a little deeper into your wallet. Despite the tough economic times and increased scrutiny from Washington, they are keeping most fees at record highs, and are eking out slight increases on others like overdraft charges — a step they rarely took during past recessions.

The result? Americans are paying more to save and spend their money.

The nation’s biggest banks — those that received the biggest bailouts from taxpayers, and are once again gaining strength — charge fees that are on average at least 20 percent higher than those at smaller lenders, according to Moebs Services, a economic research firm used by banks and federal regulators.

Some of the charges are getting more creative. Several big banks — including JPMorgan Chase, US Bancorp and Wells Fargo & — recently began billing some small-business customers for federal deposit insurance increases. Citigroup and PNC Financial assess around a 3 percent international transaction fee when customers swipe their debit cards overseas.

Bank of America recently introduced a raft of changes. In June, it raised the fees on its basic monthly checking account to $8.95 from $5.95. In April, the bank considered raising its overdraft charge to $39, nearly double what the typical bank charged a decade ago. It backed down only after an eruption of consumer complaints, tweaking its rules to keep its initial fee at $35.

And then there are credit cards: banks are scrambling to raise rates and fees before a credit card reform bill that President Obama signed into law last month takes effect. JPMorgan Chase recently announced it would raise some balance transfer fees to 5 percent, from 3 percent, in August. Citigroup, Bank of America and other lenders have also been raising the interest rates for millions of cardholders.

Over all, fees at the biggest banks are running at their highest levels on record. The average A.T.M. charge, which generates billions of dollars for banks annually, rose at the end of 2008 to $1.97, up from $1.78 the year before and nearly double the 89-cent average recorded in 1998, according to Bankrate.com.

Other charges are more eye-popping: today’s typical $30 stop-payment fee is about twice as much as a decade ago, according to Moebs.

Scott E. Talbott, a lobbyist for the Financial Services Roundtable, said that the banks’ fees reflect the cost of providing those services and the rise in overdraft charges reflects increased risk. “There is an increased riskiness around repayment because of the recession,” he added.

and feelin' risky....

Aaron Fine, a retail banking consultant at Oliver Wyman, said that overdraft fee income could fall 5 to 20 percent for some banks in the second and third quarter. “That is the multibillion-dollar question,” he said. “How do you replace those fees with something else?”

Of course, consumers do not have to be taken in. Consumer advocates suggest comparing the fees charged by big banks with those of credit unions and community lenders in a given area. When possible, use an A.T.M. in the bank’s network. And if you do incur fees, ask your bank manager about waiving them.

Greg McBride, a senior financial analyst at BankRate.com, said that as banking fees head into overdrive, consumers simply need to be more alert. “We will have to be on our toes to avoid getting tripped up,” he said.

Alright, I got it. Americanos will soon become the most "on their toes" consumers on the blue marble. Think you can screw us with your army of lawyers and small print banditos! Think again! Suck air, dirt bag! We're #1.