Ever since the financial crisis four years ago, many ordinary
Americans have felt like
Wall Street banks took their bailout money
and proceeded to continue operating their businesses as usual,
taking advantage of opportunities to charge nickel-and-dime fees
to their customers. Combined with stricter loan guidelines that
prevented many people from getting financing when they most
needed it, a large mass of people gave up on banks entirely,
leading to movements like
Bank Transfer Day
and other anti-big-bank sentiment.
Yet while the worst recession in decades wasn't enough to make
big banks relent in their pursuit of income, Hurricane Sandy
apparently gave them pause. As a result, several banks have
stepped up to make things easier for their customers during their
current time of need, waiving much-hated fees in an effort to
build goodwill and avoid resentment for fees that in many cases
are entirely outside their customers' control at the moment.
Doing the right thing
Banks are stepping up with a number of initiatives that will give
their customers at least some relief from the disruption that
Hurricane Sandy has had on their lives. Here are just a few:
- Most banks
charge their customers when they use ATMs
that are outside their proprietary network. But
) , and
) are among institutions waiving out-of-network ATM fees for
customers in areas affected by the storm.
have gotten to be extremely expensive for customers who bounce
) is waiving overdraft fees as well as any charges associated
with using overdraft protection services.
- Late-payment fees for credit cards and consumer loans can
not only be costly but can also have a negative impact on your
credit. But Chase, Citi, and Wells Fargo are waiving those fees
at least through Nov. 1.
- Other banks, including
Bank of America
, are addressing fee issues as they arise.
Good for them, good for us
All this sounds like the right thing for banks to do for their
customers. But it's also good business for them.
Many major banks, especially those headquartered in New York
City, are facing major internal disruptions at the moment. Banks
with customer service call centers in areas affected by the storm
are short-staffed at exactly the time when their customers will
put the greatest demands on them. Many unusual situations will
likely tax the ability of rank-and-file customer service
representatives and their supervisors to address customer
Given those challenges, the last thing that banks need is for
customers to bombard them with calls about having minor fees
waived. Yet that's exactly what many irate customers would likely
do without the waivers, potentially creating yet another public
relations disaster for banks at a critical time for the industry.
By giving up a little fee income now, banks are saving themselves
from a major headache down the road -- and perhaps building a
little goodwill in the process.
Be smart with your accounts
Of course, just because banks are being kind with their policies
doesn't mean you should count on them always to do the right
thing. The best way to deal with fees is to avoid doing whatever
it is that incurs them -- and if you can't, find a bank that
won't charge you for that behavior. With many banks not only
choosing not to charge fees for out-of-network ATMs but also
refunding the fees that the ATM operators themselves often tack
on, there's really no excuse for dinging yourself $3 to $5 each
time you need to grab cash on the run.
With money as tight as it is right now, fees aren't something
you can really afford to pay. Banks continue to rely on fees for
a big chunk of their overall income, but with a little effort,
you don't have to rely on their occasional benevolence in order
to avoid paying fees yourself.
Bank of America has had its share of bad publicity, but it's
still plugging away. Read our in-depth company report about the
most-talked-about bank out there to learn whether Bank of America
is a buy. The report details B of A's prospects, including three
reasons to buy and three reasons to sell. Just click here to get
Tune in every Monday and Wednesday for Dan's columns on
retirement, investing, and personal finance. You can follow him
on Twitter @DanCaplinger.
Fool contributor Dan Caplinger owns warrants on Wells Fargo
and JPMorgan Chase. The Motley Fool owns shares of Bank of
America, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, and Wells Fargo. Motley Fool
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