If you still have a Bank of America account, this might motivate you to move your money:
CORDOVA, S.C.– Shawana Busby does not seem like the sort of customer who would be at the center of a major bank’s business plan. Out of work for much of the last three years, she depends upon a $264-a-week unemployment check from the state of South Carolina. But the state has contracted with Bank of America to administer its unemployment benefits, and Busby has frequently found herself incurring bank fees to get her money.
To withdraw her benefits, Busby, 33, uses a Bank of America prepaid debit card on which the state deposits her funds. She could visit a Bank of America ATM free of charge. But this small community in the state’s rural center, her hometown, does not have a Bank of America branch. Neither do the surrounding towns where she drops off her kids at school and attends church.
She could drive north to Columbia, the state capital, and use a Bank of America ATM there. But that entails a 50 mile drive, cutting into her gas budget. So Busby visits the ATMs in her area and begrudgingly accepts the fees, which reach as high as five dollars per transaction. She estimates that she has paid at least $350 in fees to tap her unemployment benefits.
“It really boggles my mind,” she said. “This bank is taking little bits of money out of thousands of pockets, including mine.”
Bank of America recently aborted plans to charge ordinary banking customers $5 a month to use their debit cards in the face of national outrage. But the bank has quietly continued to mine another source of fees: jobless people who depend upon the bank’s prepaid debit cards to tap their benefits. Bank of America and other financial firms — including U.S. Bank, Wells Fargo and JP Morgan Chase — have secured contracts to provide access to public benefits in 41 states. These contracts typically allow banks to collect unlimited fees from merchants and consumers.
In short, the same banks whose speculation delivered a financial crisis that has destroyed millions of jobs have figured out how to turn widespread unemployment into a profit center: The larger the number of people who are out of work and dependent upon the state for sustenance, the greater the potential gains through administering their benefits.