Durbin on new bank fees: 'Here we go again'

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The specific object of Durbin's ire is the bank's reported consideration of a series of new fees, as the bank looks to boost its revenue as low interest rates and heightened regulations cut into profits. The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday that the bank was launching pilot programs experimenting with regular fees tied to checking accounts, which can be waived if account holders hold a minimum balance, use a credit card or take a mortgage with the bank.

While the plans to implement the fees are not yet final, Durbin did not hold his fire in what has been a long-running dispute with the banking industry over fees.

The bank's move does not mark the first time it has sparred with Durbin. After Bank of America announced its plans to charge a $5 monthly fee to checking account holders last year, Durbin and other lawmakers, as well as the president, launched a volley of complaints at the institution. Durbin went so far as to say on the Senate floor that Bank of America customers should leave the bank over the move.

"Get the heck out of that bank. Find yourself a bank or a credit union that won’t gouge you with $5 a month and will still give you a debit card you can use every single day," he said in October.

The bank ultimately abandoned that fee scheme amid the public outcry.

Thursday's round marked the latest in a protracted feud between Durbin and the industry. While he has criticized new fees pushed by the banks, the industry has in turn accused Durbin of forcing them into existence, thanks to the so-called Durbin amendment. That provision of the Dodd-Frank financial reform law placed new limits on the amount of fees banks could charge for debit card transactions, and was ground zero for one of the fiercest lobbying battles last year, as retailers and banks sparred over billions in potential revenue.

After an attempt to delay or repeal the Durbin amendment fell short in the Senate, banks have looked elsewhere to recoup that lost revenue, including the new fees.

On a related front, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) announced Thursday that it was opening its doors to consumer complaints about bank accounts.

“Deposit accounts play a critical role in the lives of most Americans, but these products and the laws governing them are complicated,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray.  “Consumers need someone on their side to keep banks and credit unions accountable — that is our job at the Consumer Bureau.”