November 18, 2011
Massive Indignation!

A well-known progressive website has "suddenly" discovered what everyone else seems to have known about for a very long time. Ok, folks, be prepared to gasp in horror. Thinkprogress has found out banks charge fees to use other banks' ATM machines. And some of those fees are expensive! And they hurt "its most vulnerable customers!"

Bank of America has charged fees like this for at least fifteen years. I know because that's how long I've had my accounts with them. And all the ATMs I've ever used charge fees when using a non-customer account. Sometimes the fee is expensive.

That's why I avoid it whenever possible by only using Bank of America ATMs. There's one right down the road from my house, and for a long time there was another just down the street from my workplace. Then it's completely free, and always has been. I'm just about dead certain the "victim" at the start of the article knows where at least one Bank of America ATM is somewhere. It may not be convenient, and it may be quite difficult to reach, but it's out there somewhere and you'd think someone who's counting every damned penny would know that and use it.

Banks have been quietly raising fees because, as has been covered here and elsewhere, they need to cover losses imposed when federal legislation capped the fees they could charge for business transactions. And just how many times does a PIN number have to be wrong before a fee is charged?

And then, right on time, comes a call for using the state's iron fist: "big banks are ... acting as middlemen for what should be publicly provided services." Worked that out for himself, he did, what "should" and "should not" be. Because the state does such a stellar job administering all the other publicly provided services. You know, like the DMV, the Post Office and, hey, the unemployment office too! They're awesome!

So, let's spin the bottle the other way: state unemployment offices are trying to help make benefits easier to access and more resistant to fraud. They contract with a bank to provide pre-paid ATM cards which can be used free of charge with that bank's ATMs. It costs money to provide this service, so the bank charges the state a fee. Since banks are for-profit institutions, they will be making a little more money than it actually costs to do the job.

ATMs are, at heart, boxes full of money left unattended for long periods of time in locations that aren't always very secure. It's expensive to make them tough enough to resist Jimmy McCrowbar, and when Jonny McTowWinch comes along they get destroyed. You have to pay two guys with shotguns and an armored truck enough to make it worth risking a confrontation with Billy McGlockNine to keep them filled with cash. None of this is free, and some of it is dangerous. Hence the most convenient ATMs are also the ones which charge the highest fees.

But, of course, none of this makes any difference to a stalwart progressive or liberal. Because Ms. Unemployed's choices are constrained, it means she has no choice at all. Only the power of the state can rescue her from this death by a thousand cuts! And so, as sure as the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, the power of the state must be used to force justice to be done.

Because, you know, it's worked so very well so far.

Posted by scott at November 18, 2011 01:33 PM

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