Wachovia, Bank of America Add Fees That Certainly Won’t be Popular

Action comes as U.S. banks adjust to new regulations and try to recoup lost revenue. No more waived fees for using another bank’s ATM. Higher monthly account charges. Fees for paper statements with images of canceled checks.

These are some of the changes coming to customers of Bank of America and Wachovia, Charlotte’s dominant banks.

Bank of America will start telling customers next week that it’s adjusting fees as part of an effort to standardize its practices nationwide. Wachovia has been making its own changes, the latest wrinkle from the Wells Fargo merger.

The new pricing comes as banks nationwide are revamping their accounts and fee lineups as they adjust to new regulations and look to recoup lost revenue. But Greg McBride, senior financial analyst with Bankrate.com, said the latest changes are the kinds of things banks do every year.

“Fees in general have been on the rise for more than a decade,” McBride said.

Both banks, for example, are adding fees for customers who receive paper statements that provide images of canceled checks. Bank of America is charging $3 per statement starting in January; Wachovia has started charging $2 per statement. Customers can avoid the fees by dropping the images from their statements and viewing their checks online.

This change is an example of banks driving customers to online banking options that are less expensive than mailing printed materials. Over time, banks have gone from sending customers their actual canceled checks to providing images in statements to preferring they access them electronically.

In other changes at Bank of America, the nation’s biggest consumer bank will start charging customers $3 for printing a summary of their account at the ATM and $12 for a deposited check that doesn’t clear. The bank will also charge a uniform $14 per month for some of its less popular checking accounts.

That monthly fee will apply to fewer than 10 percent of checking account customers, and customers can avoid the fee by having a big enough balance, spokeswoman Anne Pace said. The returned-item fee is a reaction to a rising source of losses for the bank. In all cases, customers can take steps to avoid the fees, she said. The changes start in November and December.

The moves are meant to standardize prices that vary around the country after years of mergers, Pace said. It’s a necessary first step, she said, as the bank works to move away from “punitive” charges that sting customers when they make a mistake.

Bank of America has also said it’s looking for ways to bring in new revenue as financial reform legislation threatens to cut debit card and other fees. To avoid new fees, customers are being asked to change their behavior, such as using ATMs or electronic statements, which are less costly for the bank.

“We will continue to develop more ways for our customers to choose how they pay for the value we provide,” Pace said.

At Wachovia, some customers may have noticed extra ATM fees in their monthly statements. Depending on the account, the bank previously waived some fees when customers used other banks’ machines. Now Wachovia has cut that perk across the board.

In the Carolinas, Wachovia charges about $3 for using another bank’s ATM. Bank of America, which hasn’t changed its ATM fees, charges its customers $2.

With more than 12,000 combined ATMs around the country, including about 200 in Charlotte, Wachovia believes customers can find a machine to meet their needs, spokesman Josh Dunn said. Customers can use the bank’s website to search for the closest ATMs and branches.

San Francisco-based Wells Fargo is more closely aligning Wachovia and Wells products ahead of the conversion of East Coast branches this year and next, Dunn said. The bank has only increased a small percentage of its fees this year and has decreased and eliminated some charges, he noted.

Wells bought Wachovia in 2008 at the peak of the financial crisis, but it’s gradually merging operations over three years. Wachovia branches in Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee switch to the Wells Fargo name this month, followed by Georgia in October. Carolinas branches won’t switch until late next year.

Merger-related changes are inevitable at banks, said McBride of Bankrate.com. He noted there are ways to avoid most bank fees, but that doesn’t mean customers will welcome the changes – especially with the financial crisis and bank bailouts still fresh in customers’ memories.

“These moves,” he said, “certainly won’t be popular.”

Information from charlotteobserver.com.

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