2011 was a year marked by many financial imbalances. High unemployment rates and national economic instability made consumers uneasy. Adding to consumer woes, several financial institutions, utility companies and other companies contributed to the economic strain by sneaking in unwarranted fees. (For more, check out 5 Hidden Fees To Watch For On Vacation.)
Verizon's Fee Flops
Late last year, Verizon made the announcement that it would charge customers a fee of $2 if they made one-time bill payments online or used their credit cards to make a payments over the phone. The fees angered customers and the resulting backlash forced Verizon to drop the surcharge.
More Bank Fees
Several banks jumped onto the fee bandwagon by imposing hidden charges of their own. Most notably, Bank of America and Wells Fargo planned to charge debit card users a fee between $3 and $5. However, many customers threatened to close their accounts and both banks relented to the public outrage by dropping the fees. Customers also rallied against the fees by protesting through Twitter and Facebook, and signing petitions on sites like Change.org.
Customer protest has proved a powerful tool in the battle against bank fees. Protesters from the Occupy Wall Street movement have demonstrated their discontent of bank actions by going to Citibank branches to rally against them. In San Francisco, California, a group of senior citizen activists called "Wild Old Women" staged a protest against a Bank of America branch because the group was unhappy with the bank continuously raising its rates. (To learn more, see The Truth About Credit Card Swipe Fees.)
Citibank customers who do not maintain the required minimum balance are required to pay $20 per month. Citizens Bank is charging customers $50 a month if they fail to meet the $1,000 minimum balance requirement on their money market accounts. TD Bank charges up to $25 when customers neglect to meet their balance requirement on checking accounts.
Airline companies such as US Airways hiked up fees on overweight and oversized luggage from $50 to a whopping $90, and United Continental increased fees on second checked bags for international flights from between $15 to $70. Some airlines like Spirit Airlines even charged a $5 fee to customers who had an airport agent print their boarding passes. Continental Airlines currently charges $400 on overweight checked bags weighing 71 to100 pounds, while American Airlines charges $450 on Asian flights.
A USA Today survey of 13 U.S. carriers found that fees for a first checked bag are up $43 from four years ago, when these nominal fees began. The survey also found that most airlines charge for booking a "free" frequent-flier award ticket by phone. US Airways is indicated as having the highest "free" booking fees. Certain discounts were also eliminated. Airlines such as Continental, Delta, United and US Airways did away with discounts for paying a fee online. For example, some airlines were offering customers who checked a bag online a $2 or $3 discount, but no longer do so. (For more on fees, read Everyday Fees And How To Avoid Them.)
The Bottom Line
When it came to fees, 2011 showed just how many companies lacked sympathy for Americans struggling through the recession. While major banks failed to impose planned debit card user fees due to customer backlash, many airlines increased fees and reduced discounts.