(Rick Rothacker) - Bank of America Corp, after receiving heavy public criticism for a planned $5 per-month debit card fee, is likely to give customers more ways to avoid the fee, a person familiar with the bank's plans said Friday.
The second largest U.S. bank is likely to allow many customers to avoid the fee by taking measures such as maintaining minimum balances, having paychecks direct deposited, or using Bank of America credit cards, the person said.
Under earlier plans, customers might have needed balances totaling $20,000 across all their Bank of America accounts to avoid the fee.
Bank of Americas unleashed a firestorm of criticism from customers, consumer advocates and politicians last month when it disclosed plans to charge customers $5 per month for using their debit cards, starting sometime next year. The goal was to make up revenue lost to a law that slashes the fees banks charge retailers when consumers swipe their cards.
Some other major banks have quietly pulled back on the charges. After testing a $3 per month fee in two states since February, JPMorgan Chase & Co decided not to charge customers, a person familiar with the situation said on Friday. The test will end next month and will not be extended or expanded, the person added.
Wells Fargo & Co started testing a $3 per-month fee in five states on October 14. The bank has not had time to evaluate results and has not made any changes in the program, Wells spokeswoman Lisa Westermann said.
Charlotte, North Carolina-based Bank of America is not abandoning the fee now and will likely include it in new account types the bank is testing in three states. The bank plans to roll out these packages nationwide next year.
The $5 per-month fee may still remain an option for customers, the person said.
The bank has said the purpose of the new account types is to provide customers with upfront pricing, instead of hitting them with penalties after the fact. Customers can pay monthly fees of between $9 and $20, or avoid the charges by keeping minimum balances, using their credit cards or having a minimum amount deposited to their account.
While some banks have disclosed plans to apply similar fees, many banks and credit unions decided not to institute the charge and have encouraged customers to switch banks.
(Reporting by Rick Rothacker in Charlotte, North Carolina; editing by Andre Grenon)Copyright 2011 Thomson Reuters. Click for Restrictions.