Some customers swapping banks to avoid debit card fees

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Ever since some of the larger banks announced they'll charge debit card fees, community banks and credit unions are getting new customers. Some people are switching banks to avoid the fees.

Michelle Hollis switched from being a customer at Bank of America to Virginia Credit Union.

"I've become dependent on my ATM card. I don't carry cash," said Michelle. "So now I'm going to be penalized and charged a fee for doing what they wanted me to do."

Gail Auletta-Wulf swapped out Suntrust for Union First Market Bank. She said, "I was upset! I don't have a great deal of money that I can afford to leave in the bank to maintain a minimum balance because I just started a business."

Union First Market Bank and Virginia Credit Union both say they're seeing more and more Gails and Michelles.

"We've been seeing a 1% increase in our total customer base, which is about 1000 customers over the last couple of months," said Union CEO Billy Beale.

So why the switch to community banks and credit unions? The Dodd-Frank law that limited the amount of money banks can charge retailers when you swipe your debit card in a store led them to charge you debit card fees to make up the revenue. But banks with assets less than $10 billion are exempt. They can keep charging retailers the same debit swipe fees, and therefore aren't charging customers debit card fees.

The smaller banks we talked to say their free checking will stick.

"We have no plans to implement a debit card fee," said Virginia Credit Union spokesman Glenn Birch.

Both Michelle and Gail say changing banks means changing direct deposits and automatic payments, and they worry smaller banks have fewer branches. But even if big banks were to later drop debit card fees, Michelle and Gail say they won't go back.

"I trusted you once, and you took advantage of that. So it would be a lot harder to regain trust," Gail said.

Below is a list of some of the community banks and credit unions in the Richmond area. If you're considering changing banks to avoid fees, be sure to shop around for an account that suits your needs and has low or no fees.

Bank of Virginia

Call Federal Credit Union

Connects Federal Credit Union

Entrust Federal Credit Union

Essex Bank

First Bank Richmond

First Capital Bank

First Community Bank

Franklin Federal Savings and Loan

Southern Community Bank and Trust

Union First Market Bank

Village Bank

Virginia Credit Union

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