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Bank of America debit card fee announcement sparks backlash from customers

Bank of America announced Thursday that it would begin charging basic checking account holders $5 a month to shop with their debit cards. As Ylan Mui reported:

Bank of America will become the first major bank to charge customers across the country a monthly fee to shop with their debit cards, part of a wave of changes that are eroding the low-cost model of banking that consumers have long enjoyed.

The $5 fee will debut next year for the bank’s basic checking accounts. It will apply only to debit card purchases and not to ATM withdrawals, online bill pay or mobile phone transfers. A spokeswoman said the bank is “adjusting our pricing to reflect today’s economics.

The move is just one of the ways banks are overhauling consumers’ accounts in the wake of the financial crisis, which resulted in a regulatory overhaul for the banking system and a fundamental shift in the industry business model. Rather than charge the riskiest consumers the heftiest fees, banks are now spreading their costs more evenly among their customers.

For some banks, that has meant eliminating free checking or ending rewards programs. Credit card holders have found their spending limits slashed and their interest rates increased. And with a new rule taking effect Saturday that limits banks’ ability to make money from merchants, it also means paying for the privilege of swiping your debit card.

“I think we are going to see a little bit of a shift in behavior. We just don’t know how dramatic it’s going to be yet,” said Patricia Hewitt, director of debit advisory services for the consulting firm Mercator.

BofA has faced a backlash from customers, many of whom have stated they will look elsewhere to do their banking instead of paying the fee. As Sarah Halzack explained :

Bank of America got pummeled by investors and its customers Friday, a day after announcing that it would charge many debit card users a $5 monthly fee when they shop.

The troubled bank, already besieged by multibillion-dollar lawsuits and massive financial losses, saw its stock fall more than 2 percent in late-morning trading. The shares have plunged almost 44 percent for the quarter, the worst-performing in the Dow Jones industrial average by far. For the year, the stock is down 56 percent.

Now the bank faces a public relations backlash.

The debit card change has sparked fury on the Web and cable news channels. Consumers complained on message boards and in social media, vowing to take their business elsewhere.

Fox Business Network’s Gerri Willis went as far as to cut up her debit card on the air Thursday evening. “Right here, right now, I’m going to show Bank of America what I think of their fees,” she said before using a pair of scissors.

 “That $5 fee may not seem like a lot, but it’s the principle of the thing — more and more coming out of my pocket,” she said.

Bank of America’s site was down for parts of Friday, even as company officials claimed the site was fully operational. As AP reported:

Bank of America’s homepage and online banking service were experiencing problems Friday, a day after the company said it would start charging a $5 monthly fee for customers who make debit card purchases.

A message on the bank’s homepage said that page was temporarily unavailable, despite earlier assurances from the bank that the site had been fully restored.

Some customers who tried to sign onto their accounts were greeted with the message that the site was “operating slower than usual” and that the bank was working to restore service.

A spokeswoman for the bank, Tara Burke, said the site had been fully restored for the majority of customers but that some were still experiencing “sporadic” issues.

She said the problems with the website were not the result of hacking but declined to say what was the cause.

Burke said customers who couldn’t sign onto their accounts still could bank via text message, at ATMs and at branches.

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