The Federal Reserve Bank’s recent interest rate cuts may have provided some relief for consumers, but banks have been left looking for other streams of revenue to compensate.
For many banks, that additional revenue comes in the form of fees charged to consumers.
“I think the fees they charge at the ATM can get a little bit ridiculous,” said Lisa Pinckney Flint, who works for the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
In addition to paying extra at the ATM, consumers also are paying more for insufficient funds, overdraft charges and stop payment fees than ever before, with the average fees increasing about 10 percent since 2000, according to a report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office. The report found that the average overdraft fee increased 11 percent between 2000 and 2007.
Northwest Georgia Bank on Tuesday raised its overdraft fee from $29 to $31 after surveying its competitors’ fees, said Scott Smith, president of Northwest Georgia Bank.
At First Tennessee Bank in Chattanooga, the overdraft fee rose about 15 percent in 2007 from $30 to $35, said Keith Sanford, the bank’s executive vice president.
More people taking advantage of free checking accounts, he said, are causing banks to pass those charges along to consumers in the form of increased overdraft charges and other fees.
Mrs. Flint said she and her husband have not yet felt the pinch of added fees, but it may be because they have those free checking and savings accounts.
“As long as we keep the minimum in both of those accounts, we don’t get hit with any fees,” she said.
First Tennessee’s service charges in other areas actually are going down, Mr. Sanford said. Also, he said, banks are having to figure out ways to cover costs because they are making less money on loans.
“As those rates drop, we earn less money on those deposits, so it affects everyone’s bottom line,” he said.
The fees banks charge also cover the costs of low-balance accounts that don’t bring in much money and may actually cost the bank money.
Some other banks in the area have not raised their fees recently, with most hovering around $30 for an insufficient funds charge.
At year-old CapitalMark Bank & Trust, there are no immediate plans to raise fees, said Kenny Dyer, the bank’s city executive.
At CapitalMark, the insufficient funds charge and the stop payment fee are each $31. He said the charges help pay for services that once provided streams of revenue for the bank, such as online banking, which is now free at most banks.
Mr. Smith agreed with Mr. Dyer and said the fees like those Northwest Georgia Bank charges do have a value for the customer.
The insufficient funds fee is a trade-off of sorts for customers who do get something in return by not having to pay twice, he said.
“Would you rather pay the bank $29 or pay a store $40?” he said.