Bank’s move to kill free checking raises outrage
CHARLOTTE, N.C — Bank of America is facing a backlash over eliminating a free checking account and moving customers into accounts with minimum monthly balance requirements.
This month marks the completion of a years-long phase-out of the eBanking account, which didn’t charge a monthly maintenance fee as long as customers received paperless statements and didn’t use bank tellers for routine transactions. The bank introduced the account in 2010, at a time when expected new federal regulations were predicted to limit many fees the industry had been charging.
The removal of the last customers from the eBanking program is sparking outrage from account holders, who have signed a petition on Change.org.
As of Monday afternoon, the petition had more than 45,400 signatures.
“I currently use eBanking and have had no need to use a teller. BofA, keep this feature available for the low income people that don’t even go inside your banks,” one commenter on Change.org said.
Another commenter wrote: “I am in the process of switching banks because of this.”
The account: The eBanking account did not require customers to keep a minimum balance, if they agreed to receive their monthly statements online instead of in the mail, and to use automated teller machines instead of tellers for withdrawals and deposits. Otherwise, the customer paid an $8.95 monthly maintenance fee.
The Charlotte-based bank says it hasn’t offered the account for nearly five years. Since then, it’s been transferring eBanking customers to the bank’s “Core Checking” account. That account requires a $12 monthly fee unless customers have a daily balance of at least $1,500 or at least one direct deposit of $250 or more.
Bank of America spokeswoman Betty Riess said the $250 monthly direct deposit requirement, which equates to $3,000 a year, is one of the lowest requirements in the industry.
Core Checking customers have full access to all the bank’s branches, ATMs, mobile and online banking services, and customers have several ways to avoid the $12 monthly fee, she said.
The bank also says students under 24 are eligible to have the fee waived while enrolled in high school, college, or a vocational program.
It’s the latest change at Bank of America, where chief executive Brian Moynihan has continued to streamline the company by exiting business lines and shedding “non-core” products.
It also comes at a time when Moynihan continues pushing the bank to do business with consumers with strong credit scores. This month, Moynihan started his ninth year as CEO.
Bank of America’s chief financial officer, speaking last week to investors and analysts on the bank’s fourth-quarter earnings conference call, noted the bank’s focus remains on “prime” and “super prime” borrowers with average credit scores of at least 760.
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