Bank of America is increasing certain credit card transaction fees beginning June 1, changes that come at a time when lawmakers are pushing for credit card reform and improved consumer protection.
In letters sent to customers during the past week, Bank of America said it will impose a finance charge of 4 percent for several credit card transactions including ATM cash advances, direct deposit cash advances and check cash advances, and for balance transfers and wire transfer purchases.
Currently, the charge is 3 percent for those transactions.
In addition, the bank is expanding how it charges consumers for "foreign transactions." Each time consumers use their cards in a foreign country, they are charged a fee of 3 percent on the transaction - what used to be known as a currency-conversion fee. Of that 3 percent charge, 2 percent goes to the bank and 1 percent to the card company, such as Visa or MasterCard.
But under the new rules, using U.S. dollars to pay for an overseas purchase will also cost consumers a 3 percent fee. That includes credit card purchases done over the Internet here and bought from an online retailer outside the United States.
Betty Riess, a Bank of America spokeswoman, said the transaction fees are ones that "most customers don't incur and could avoid."
As for the foreign transaction fee, she added, the charge is a way for the bank to make up for costs it has had to absorb.
Credit card issuers have been the recent target of legislators and consumer advocacy groups, as cardholders have struggled with stiffer late-fee penalties and higher interest rates, even as the federal government funnels money into those financial institutions.
Under bipartisan support, the House of Representatives last week passed the "Credit Card Holders' Bill of Rights," which is meant to protect consumers from arbitrary interest rate hikes and other misleading terms. The Senate is set to vote on a similar bill.
But opponents of the legislation say credit card companies could choose to tighten lending further in an already rigid market.
Scott Bilker, a Barnegat Township financial adviser and founder of Debtsmart.com, said new card fees and rate hikes imposed on consumers are not surprising as those companies look to recover costs. But in one reversal, J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. in January began charging a $10 monthly fee for cardholders with large balances, but rescinded it and returned those fees to customers after a public outcry.
Bank of America also said it would raise its overdraft fee to $39 from $35 per item, but last month backed down.
"As great as these (proposed) law changes seem, banks will just adapt and find new fees to charge consumers," Bilker said. "Banks are entitled to make a profit, but they're not entitled to take advantage of consumers."
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