Bank of America Corp. is adding another fee that may lead some of its customers to shut off paper statements.
This month, the company began charging customers a $3 monthly fee if they elect to receive images of their cancelled checks along with their statements. Though B of A is not the first to charge for check images, its move furthers an approach the Charlotte, N.C., bank adopted last year when it required customers with a new type of account to stop receiving mailed statements as a condition of waiving their monthly fee.
Customers can avoid the new fee by choosing to access their check images online only or by shutting off paper statements entirely.
Don Vecchiarello, a spokesman for B of A, stressed that customers can still receive paper statements at no charge — so long as they reduce the bulk by opting out of printed check images.
"This change will only impact a very small percentage of our checking account customers," he said Friday. "The vast majority of our customers receive paper statements without images of their checks and they don't get charged a fee for that."
Vecchiarello said that the move to charge for check images is "in line with the rest of the industry."
Wells Fargo & Co., for example, charges $2 a month for check images and extended that fee to former Wachovia customers in July.
B of A's new fee is the latest effort by it to encourage online banking, and wisely so, experts said. "Banks are going to have to charge for things that cost them money," said Mary Beth Sullivan, a partner at the bank consulting firm Capital Performance Group. "I don't understand how that stuff can be free in the first place, especially when there's a free alternative available."
With new regulation that limits the fees banks can earn on overdraft services and debit interchange, there is an urgency among banks to find ways to not only recoup lost fee income, but also trim costs.
"Bank of America is like every financial institution," said Kurt Strawhecker, managing partner at Strawhecker Group, a payments industry consulting firm in Omaha, Neb. "With the impending Durbin amendment, where debit interchange fees will be reduced potentially dramatically, banks are looking at any way to replace that fee income that they would lose."
This summer B of A launched the eBanking account, in which customers can have an $8.95 monthly fee waived if they agree to receive their statements online and conduct most transactions online or at an automated teller machine.
The eBanking account was designed to replace B of A's CampusEdge student account, which had no monthly fees when opened online.
Other companies have launched accounts that do not offer a paper statement at all, and some offer perks to their paperless customers to reward them for opting out of mailed statements.
Vecchiarello said B of A began alerting its customers in September about the coming charge on check images. He also said that there are numerous ways customers have access to records of their checks.
For customers who opt for the free Check Safekeeping feature, the bank will keep copies or digital images of cancelled checks on hand for seven years. Customers can see copies of the checks online, or may request up to two free copies a month. After that, there is a $3 fee per copy.
Ron Shevlin, a senior analyst at Aite Group LLC, said "there have been a number of banks that have been tweaking their fee structure to try to disincentivize people to get paper statements."