"Consumers of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains."
No, we're not paraphrasing Karl Marx to support some Communist cause. But we're upset - along with millions of American bank users - over rising automatic teller machine fee charges.
Congress, at the very least, should move quickly to ban the double charge many banks currently stick to non-customers for using their ATMs.
Until 1996, such double charging didn't occur. USA Today reports the big banks that installed most machines saved 80 cents a transaction from their own customers over teller service, and they made $1 billion a year in fees from the smaller institutions. Yet customers still pay for those fees and the surcharges are added, giving the big banks a nice competitive edge.
Just over a year ago, as Sen. Al D'Amato, R-N.Y., notes, "Competition was in full force, and the smaller banks and the credit unions were able to compete with the big banks. ATMs grew at an annualized rate of 11 percent over a decade." Now, the chairman of the U.S. Senate Banking Commttee says ATM charges added by big banks are "anti-competitive and monopolistic and have spread like wildfire."
A Senate Banking Committee report underscores that nearly half of all U.S. banks add the double charge, and the average consumer is paying $155 in ATM fees every year.
There's more to this rip-off, though. A triple-charge scheme is in the works!
The Banking Committee held a May 22 hearing on a little-known government plan permitting big banks to charge up to three fees on each ATM transaction made by senior citizens, the disabled and needy families who receive government benefits, including Social Security.
Listen, again, to D'Amato:
"Under the mandatory electronic delivery of government benefits beginning Jan. 1, 1999, the 10 million people who receive government benefits but do not have bank accounts will be assigned by the government to a big bank and given ATM-type cards which they will be forced to use to access their benefits. The big banks will be allowed to charge them the usual double charge plus an additional access fee."
Alert your senators and representatives and demand that they end anti-competitive double- and triple ATM charges. Consumers have nothing to lose but the shackles some banks are trying to impose.