Customers Complain about Banks but Could Control Cost of Services

By Veigle, Anne | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), August 11, 1997 | Go to article overview

Customers Complain about Banks but Could Control Cost of Services


Veigle, Anne, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


Pay the price for convenience - that's the message that banks have for consumers who dare complain that financial institutions are greedily increasing fees for services such as using automated teller machines - or talking to live tellers.

For local residents, those fees can be steep, particularly for people who live in the District. Why? Big banks, which dominate the region, charge the fees to pay for a variety of new services they offer consumers. Customers have the choice of paying for them or hiking off to the nearest community bank, which may be less likely to nickel-and-dime customers.

Community banks and credit unions came out the heroes in a recent study of the cost of consumer checking accounts, which concluded that consumers pay nearly $30 more annually on average to maintain checking accounts at big banks rather than at credit unions or small institutions.

"Our view is that monopoly power allows big banks to charge more money," said Ed Mierzwinski, consumer program director of the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, which compiled the survey of 419 banks in 29 states, including Maryland and Virginia, and the District. Locally, the District had the highest fees, with Maryland ranking slightly better than Virginia.

"Most people aren't paying the fees," said John Hall, a spokesman for the American Bankers Association in Washington, who pointed out that if one has the patience to slog through the variety of service packages banks offer, many fees can be avoided.

But the granddaddy of annoyances in banking fees is the proliferation of charges for using ATMs. Banks declare that consumers should not mind paying ATM fees because the cash machines are a handy convenience.

Customers usually aren't charged for using their own bank's network, but the fees start stacking up when they use machines of other banks. …

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