Thursday, August 18, 2011

18 AUG 11: Three-Dollar Card Café

We're approaching ten months since Wells Fargo became a big-time bank in the Columbus area - and the longer it's here, the less I'm liking it. An announcement Wednesday probably disappointed a lot of customers across Georgia. Instead of bandits robbing the stagecoach, it feels like the Wells Fargo stagecoach is robbing the passengers.

Wells Fargo announced Georgia will be one of five states to have a "test fee" on debit cards, beginning in October. The majority of customers probably want the fee to fail that test -- which risks confusing our children about C.R.C.T. week next April.

Wells Fargo will impose a fee of three dollars per month on Georgia debit cards - but only if you use the card for payments and purchases. So this could be a test of your creativity. Use the card as a bookmark, and it's still free. Awfully tempting, but free....

Bank analysts say Wells Fargo is trying this "three fee" because of a new federal law. You may not realize businesses have to pay banks a fee every time you use a debit card in their stores. The federal government put a cap on those fees in June - which proves there are times when officials in Washington really can put limits on spending.

The current limit on "swipe fees" with a debit card at businesses is 21 cents per transaction. So of course, Wells Fargo wants to make up for lost revenue - by swiping more money from your checking account.

So what can a Georgia Wells Fargo customer do to get around this debit card fee? Living in Columbus invites some outside-the-box out-of-state thinking. But the fee seems to be based on where you opened your account - so you can't trade your nice Columbus home with a disgruntled Phenix City renter.

(To make this point clear for Wells Fargo customers in Georgia: You cannot flee the three-dollar fee.)

Some Wells Fargo customers talked openly Wednesday of shifting their money to other banks to protest this test. In other words, they'd change the company slogan to: "Together, we'll go far away."

But closing your Wells Fargo account and moving to another bank might not work, either. WXTX reported Wednesday night SunTrust will impose a similar test debit card fee in October - but it will be five dollars a month, instead of three. So energy isn't the only thing from the sun that's more expensive....

But then there's the option which might be the most challenging for Wells Fargo customers - to send a bank statement message by not using their debit cards. Simply hide it under the mattress with all the money you removed from the stock market last week.

Some Wells Fargo customers may consider that impossible -- but it wasn't that long ago when no one used debit cards at all. About 20 years ago, we found other ways to pay for items at stores. And if people go back to writing checks, the dying art of penmanship might make a comeback.

I've become a Wells Fargo customer by default, through a series of mergers -- from SouthTrust to Wachovia to the present name. But I gave up my ATM card when Wachovia required a monthly fee to have one. So this Wells Fargo fee will end months of explanations at the bank of why tellers have to see my driver's license photo for identification.

Because of this, I engage in "old school" banking at Wells Fargo. I visit branches by day, when they're open. I write checks, instead of using a credit card. I even review my monthly statement when it comes in the mail. What's the point of getting money through Internet banking, when the government already cracked down on Internet poker?

This test fee isn't the only thing which has disappointed me about Wells Fargo's policies. The mega-bank doesn't sell travelers checks, while most other banks in Columbus do. Some people have told me travelers checks are obsolete, with the increasing use of debit cards. But protests of this three-dollar fee could make the debit card obsolete - and suddenly stuffed wallets will be back in style.

-> Our other blog starts with poker, then goes in directions you might not expect. Visit "On the Flop!" <-

E-MAIL UPDATE: Speaking of higher fees, the new Phenix City "apartment tax" brought this comment Wednesday....

That's the perfect example of the saying "Corporations don't pay taxes, people do." Of course that will get passed on to renters, most of whom are probably barely making it anyway. No, I doubt if people will move out over it but those looking for an apartment may end up living outside Phenix City because of the price difference.

In their rush to grab money from those "wealthy" corporations they are really taxing those at the low end of the economic food chain.


A thought suddenly occurred to me Wednesday night about this issue. Why are all the protests of the Phenix City Council proposal coming from landlords? Where were the renters Monday and Tuesday? Where is the political mobilization? Does a candidate for President need to come down to Alabama to show how it's done?

We have one other e-mail about higher fees, but we're placing that inside the Sunday Soapbox. So with apologies for the language in that link above, let's check some other Wednesday discoveries:

+ A local real estate agent revealed the Four Winds restaurant in Cusseta is for sale, with an asking price of $1.5 million. I knew the Ranger Burger was huge, but I didn't expect the price of a restaurant in Cusseta would be.

+ WLTZ attended an economic and policy conference called "Georgia Forward" at Callaway Gardens. If you prefer to attend a "Georgia Backward" conference, drive to Stewart County and pitch a tent outside Westville.

+ Columbus Police told the Ledger-Enquirer a man flagged down an officer on Second Avenue - in the nude. He was arrested on several charges, but was NOT mixed with Victory Drive nightclub dancers for a lineup.

+ The Muscogee County Marshal's Office announced a new course in "firearm fundamentals" for the general public. Officers told WRBL most people who own a gun do NOT know how to use it properly. So if someone robs you on a street corner today, the odds actually might be in your favor.

+ Instant Message to Ledger-Enquirer reporter Dawn Minty: Aw, c'mon - "Bacon-Bourbon" Brownies?! Members of the church group I attend usually steer clear of my brownies now. Please don't give them a list of reasons to kick me out completely.

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