Wells Fargo testing debit card use fees in select states

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - One of the newest banks in the Richmond market is testing the waters with a debit card fee in select states.

Wells Fargo just took over Wachovia branches in the area. While Richmond is not a test market for the new fee, the idea has some customers taking a second look at their accounts. This comes as banks across the country try to discover new revenue streams to offset caps on other fees.

We're talking about a $3 monthly fee to use your debit card! It's only a pilot program right now. Virginia is not included. Still people here tell me in these tight times, they'd like to hold on to what little cash they do have.

Every dollar counts for these Chesterfield moms.

"Life is expensive enough," said Liz Grinsell.

But how closely do they look at their bank statements.

TARA: "Do you know what your fees are for your bank?
GRINSELL: "I do not."
KIRSTAN FOURNIER: "I do not and I do not know if anything has changed since they took them over."

Fournier is a long time Wells Fargo customer. But she said that will now change.

"Just charging me $3. I'm not happy about it," said Fournier.

Right now, Wells Fargo is just testing a new debit card use fee in Georgia, New Mexico, Nevada and Oregon. The three dollar monthly charge starts in November.

A Wells Fargo spokeswoman in Richmond said it's too early to say whether customers here will face the new fee.

"Typically you don't see banks making changes to their fee schedules very often. It's not something they want to revisit any more often than they have to," said Bruce Whitehurst with the Virginia Bankers Association.

Wells Fargo tells me it's always reviewing pricing and things like regulatory changes come into play.

Earlier this summer, the Federal Reserve implemented a cap on fees banks charge retailers every time a customer swipes a debit card. Before it was 44 cents a swipe, now it can only be 21 cents max.

"It's not about increasing revenue, it's about replacing revenue that has been taken away by law," said Whitehurst.

Whitehurst said banks look to fees to cover costs of providing accounts, which is about $400 a year.

"When you consider all the things that you get for a bank account, the safety and security of your money, not only because you're not exposed to robbery, it's FDIC insured," said Whitehurst.

Wells Fargo tells me it doesn't expect backlash from customers. It said if customers looked at the bigger picture, they'd see the new fee is understandable.

The Virginia Bankers Association said it's always best to talk to your bank about its fees and future plans. It's recommended you also shop around for the best deals for your banking needs.

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