Nevertheless, after public outrage, those three banks, plus SunTrust Banks Inc. and Regions Financial Corp., all backed down from plans to charge monthly fees for debit card purchases.
Bank of America says it is "not planning to increase checking account fees with our existing customers." Of the tests in Arizona, Georgia and Massachusetts, it says it is "continuing to learn" from them and has made no decisions.
Some bank executives say the political environment has made it difficult for them to charge for their services. Todd Maclin, head of consumer banking at JPMorgan Chase, points out that banking is cheaper than a cellphone, a cable TV or a gym membership.
"But still we don't expect that you're going to be able to increase in this environment," he says, referring to prices.
Still, Chase and the other large banks have increased monthly fees by an average of $10 for checking accounts in the last two years. They also introduced fees of $2 and $3 for small services like printed statements and canceled checks.
Consumer advocates say they worry that the fees will push people out of banking and toward more expensive services, like payday lenders and loan sharks.
"A significant part of the population will be squeezed out of banks because they can't afford it," says Nancy Bush, founder of banking research group NAB, and columnist at SNL Financial, "and that is absolutely wrong."
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