The Associate Press says that 30 states have cut deals with bailed out banks like JP Morgan Chase, Citigroup, and Bank of America to distribute unemployment benefits on debit cards instead of paper checks. The catch? All of these programs have fees — and in some states the cards are mandatory.
The AP talked to one recently laid off worker who paid $6 in fees to access $80 of her unemployment money.
“It’s a racket. It’s a scam,” Rachel Davis, a 38-year-old dental technician from St. Louis who was laid off in October, told the AP.
Why are the banks doing this? The programs have the potential to be a huge source of revenue. Bank collect interest on the money before it is withdrawn, transaction fees of 1 to 3 percent whenever the cards are used at a store, ATM fees, fees to speak to a banker, fees to make withdrawals at a branch, and even overdraft fees. Here’s the math:
In Missouri, for instance, 94,883 people claimed unemployment benefits through debit cards from Central Bank. Analysts say a recipient uses a card an average of six to 10 times a month. If each cardholder makes three withdrawals at an out-of-network ATM, at a fee of $1.75, the bank would collect nearly $500,000. If half of the cardholders also dial customer service three times in any given week (the first time is free; after that, it’s 25 cents a call), the bank’s revenue would jump to more than $521,000. That would yield $6.3 million a year.
Here are some more examples of the type of fees charged to users of these cards.