Bank of America has begun charging a $5 fee to any person without an account who wants to cash a payroll check -- even when the check is drawn on a Bank of America account.
The policy went into effect at Washington area banks this week. It reflects a growing trend of companies tacking on extra fees for what were once considered basic services.
The policy surprised Alan T. McLaughlin, who went to cash his payroll check yesterday in Northern Virginia, as he has for the past four years. After McLaughlin showed ID and gave a thumbprint, a teller asked if it was all right to charge a $5 fee. "I told them, 'No, it was not all right.' I see this as an abuse of the banking establishment," he said.
"The vast majority of banks don't" charge such a fee, said Tracey Mills, a spokeswoman for the American Bankers Association. But the charges are permitted under national banking rules, she added. And they are "less expensive than other options," she noted, such as using check-cashing firms.
"Unfortunately the practice is spreading quite rapidly," said Edmund Mierzwinski, consumer program director for the U.S. Public Interest Research Group. The only way to stop it, he said, may be for employers to insist that banks cash their payroll checks for full value or to switch banks.
Bank of America spokesman Harvey Radin said the bank imposed the charge on all business-issued checks to help cover the costs of patrons with accounts elsewhere.
"We want to focus on people who have a customer relationship with us. When we have high-volume customer activity with people who do not have a customer relationship with us, it impacts what you can do with your customers. . . . It takes your staff's time," he said.
Radin said the bank started imposing the fee in other parts of the country two years ago. It applies to all checks written from a business bank account because of the high-volume of such transactions. There are no charges for cashing checks drawn from personal accounts.
Radin said several banks, including Chase of J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., impose similar fees. Chase, which doesn't have branches in the Washington area, said it charges outside customers a $3.50 fee in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.