By Ryan Velez
Bank of America quietly made a change to its basic checking accounts this month, and USA Today reports that people are ready to protest a move they see puts a burden on poor and impoverished families.
The action in question was moving e-banking customers into accounts that require a $12 monthly fee unless they have a direct monthly deposit of $250 or more or maintain a minimum daily balance of at least $1,500.
“Bank of America was known to care for both their high income and low-income customers. This is what made Bank of America different,” wrote Mel San, who launched a Change.org petition. “I urge you to let Bank of America realize that this is unfair to their customers that have been loyal to them for years.” The petition had 46,000 signees as of Tuesday. Other U.S. banks are currently examining changes for these accounts, which carry high maintenance costs but help make up for them with overdraft fees. Bank of America stopped offering the basic, e-banking accounts to new customers in 2013 and started switching existing customers to regular checking accounts more recently. It denied that the accounts were designed to target low-income customers.
According to the bank, students under age 24 will get an exemption that gives them free access to the bank’s regular checking service. But others are being switched to regular accounts. The bank said it does not break out numbers of customers by specific types of service.
“Our Core Checking account provides full access to all our financial centers, ATMs, mobile and online banking and offers several ways to avoid a monthly fee, including a monthly direct deposit of $250, which equates to $3,000 annually,” said Betty Riess, a Bank of America spokeswoman. “This is one of the lowest qualifiers in the industry and a great value.”
However, Kristen Clarke, President and Executive Director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, a group that targets societal inequality, issued a statement that said low-income people who are denied traditional bank services “are left vulnerable to costly check-cashing outlets, pawnshops, and other predatory services.” This is part of the issue that poor people face, as these financial services often end up costing them more in the end, preventing them from being able to elevate their station.