Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Freeze Those Fees

Posted By on Tue, Nov 1, 2011 at 1:31 PM

BOA.jpg
No fees, please. Make that "hell no."

Bank of America is the latest institution to feel the wrath of customers over fees. Regions and SunTrust banks previously announced that they would back away from new monthly fees for using debit cards. Regions is the parent company of Morgan Keegan, and SunTrust acquired Memphis-based National Bank of Commerce.

Airlines, telecom companies, and governments still bedevil us with fees for everything from luggage to preferred seating to premium channels to car registrations. We appear to be stuck with those. But I think they're partly responsible for the backlash against the banks, who were late to the party. And I don't know if the Occupy Wall Street protests had anything to do with this but I suspect they didn't hurt.

Rationally or not, many of us see fees as sneaky, greedy, and unnecessary — a cost above and beyond what we expect to pay. I know I often overpay for restaurant meals, tickets for sports events, and probably in property taxes on my house, but I accept those things as normal. But I detest paying fees to Comcast, Verizon, AT&T, MLGW, Delta Airlines, and Bank of America, even though the bank's tellers and managers provide excellent customer service. The (now aborted) $72 a year ($6 a month) in debit card fees is a tiny fraction of the money I lost in the stock and bond markets since 2008, but it's the principle of the thing. Fees are in the fine print. Fees go up without notice. Fees add up. Fees are a nuisance. Fees are an insult.

Every reporter learns pretty quickly that complicated big-picture stories are less likely to get attention and generate outrage than simple stories about relatively small corruption that can be tagged to a specific individual or individuals. The term paper on highway spending versus the human interest story about the clerk getting kickbacks for bypassing car inspections. There's a similar psychology of costs and fees.

On a somewhat related topic, I have no problem at all with The Commercial Appeal charging for online services by requiring a subscription to the print newspaper, as it began doing this month. As I've written before, news gathering costs money for people and infrastructure. Reporters are valuable and should be paid for their work. Paying $2.50 a week or $10 a month for the Sunday paper and online content is a fair deal.

Most of the time, The CA does a good job of gathering local news, although it has gone easy on the financial firms and ignores nonprofits even when they pay top executives seven-figure salaries. The days of 36-percent profit margins are over. We love our readers and advertisers, but a weekly paper such as the Flyer, which is supported solely by advertising, cannot duplicate that broad coverage. And television news, which now includes several hours a day of local news and features, is not free since the days of rabbit ears and antennas even if you have a bare-bones cable package. You are paying a monthly bill to some company or other that is probably loading you up with fees.

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