What Are Bank Fees?

Bank fees are nominal fees for a variety of account set-up and maintenance, and minor transactional services for retail and business customers. Fees can be one-time, ongoing or related to penalties.

Bank Fees Explained

Banks fees seemingly lurk everywhere. There is comprehensive disclosure of the menu of fees on banks' websites and in pamphlets with fine print. Customers must carefully read the disclosures to avoid surprises. Certain fees apply to all customers across the board, while others may be waived under certain conditions. While competition is a natural regulator of where a bank may apply fees and how much it thinks it can get away with, government authorities such as the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) stand by to field complaints and concerns from the public about fee-charging practices by banks.

Sample List of Bank Fees

Wells Fargo charges retail customers fees for ATM transactions (with some exceptions), cashier's checks, money orders, overdrafts, bounced checks, overdraft protection, stop payment requests, wire transfers, safety deposit boxes, minimum account balance requirements, and others. Fees for merchant, payroll, and bill payment services apply for small businesses, while treasury management and corporate trust services offered by a bank to larger businesses carry fees. Also, fees for establishing and maintaining loans or lines of credit, the bread-and-butter of all banks, apply to all.

Importance of Bank Fees to Profitability

The primary source of revenue for a bank is net interest income, but a material portion of total revenue comes from bank fees. In 2017, fee income (booked under "noninterest income") for Wells Fargo accounted for approximately 35% of aggregate revenue. An individual fee may be small but they add up nicely for a bank. When the net interest margin for a bank is squeezed in a low interest rate environment, bank fees provide a measure of stability to bank earnings.