Wells Fargo to test $3 a month debit card fee

August 16, 2011: 3:07 PM ET

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- Yet another of the nation's top banks is flirting with the idea of charging a monthly fee to customers who use debit cards.

Wells Fargo (WFC, Fortune 500) said Tuesday it will start charging a $3 monthly fee for debit card usage to customers in Georgia, New Mexico, Nevada and Oregon beginning Oct. 14.

"We regularly review our pricing and take into account the needs of our customers, industry trends, the market competition, and our cost of doing business," a Wells Fargo spokeswoman said. Customers who don't use their card during the month won't be charged the fee and the fee will be waived for select accounts, she added.

At the end of last year, JPMorgan Chase (JPM, Fortune 500) announced a similar test, in which it charged customers in northern Wisconsin a $3 fee for using their debit cards. The tests are still underway, a Chase spokesman said Tuesday.

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Earlier this summer, the Federal Reserve implemented a cap on the fees banks can charge retailers every time customers swipe their debit cards. While banks used to be able to charge an average fee of 44 cents, now they can only charge a maximum fee of 21 cents.

Before the new rules went into effect, financial institutions lobbied hard for the Federal Reserve to delay its decision -- saying a cap on these so-called "swipe fees" would cost them billions of dollars and would only end up hurting consumers.

Even before the cap was put in place, banks started to look for ways to replace the lost revenue. Banks, including Wells Fargo, Chase and SunTrust eliminated their debit rewards programs, while other banks stopped offering free checking.

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Now these new fees on debit cards are popping up. But since debit cards are rapidly replacing credit cards as the preferred payment method among consumers, these new changes aren't likely to go unnoticed.

A recent Associated Press-GfK poll of 1,001 consumers found that 61% of bank customers would stop using debit cards if a $3 fee appeared on their account. Instead, they would find a different way to pay.  To top of page

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