Steffanie Rivers

*Have you heard the news about some mega banks that have threatened to put a limit on debit card purchases as a way to bully Congress? Ever since lawmakers sided with consumers and put a cap on run-a-way credit card interest rates at the start of 2011, banks have been working overtime trying to find other ways into your wallets.

Those checking accounts that were free just last year cost at least $10 a month now. That’s $120 a year of my money that you’re forced to give up just to do business with a bank.

Bounced check fees are so expensive it only takes a few to wipe out your entire account leaving you indebt to the bank. And the overdraft protection account disguised as a “savings plan” that employees hound you about evertime you dare to step foot inside the bank is just another way to get more of your money.

Multiply the fees confiscated from one customer times just 10,000 customers and its plain to see that banks have made up for the potential lost credit card revenue. Even after JP Morgan Chase reported a 47% increase in profits in the fourth quarter of 2010, they still want more of your money. And if they can’t get it from your credit card they plan to get it from your debit card.

Everytime you swipe your debit card the bank charges the retailer for the transaction in the form of an “interchange fee.” That fee averages around 63 cents everytime your card is swiped. And retailers probably pass on that fee to consumers by charging more for products and services. Now Congress is talking about capping the interchange fee at 12 cents. If that law is passed banks could see the $15 billion it collects every year on that fee cut dramtically. So what do bankers do? They’re instigating a fight between Congress and consumers – a junior high school tactic.

If Congress caps the fee, then JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America and Citigroup have threatened to limit each debit card purchase to $50 or $100, nevermind that it’s your money and you should be able to spend as much of it as you want. The banking industry wants consumers to be up in arms and do the fighting for them against Congress, because if you scream loud enough Congress might back down on the interchange fee cap and let the banks have its way.

It’s good that lawmakers are taking a stand against the banking industry. Consumers should not interfere, but let them finish what they started. Afterall they’re acting in your best interest for a change. As for those bully banks,  if they make good on their threat to limit debit card purchase amounts we all should vote with our feet: Walk into your bank, withdraw your money, close your account and deposit it somewhere else where there’s less fees and less drama.

Steffanie is a freelance journalist living in the Dallas, Texas metroplex. Send questions, comments or requests for speaking engagements to Steffanie at [email protected]. And see the video version of her journal at youtube.com/steffanierivers.