Is Bank Of America Of Trying To Skirt The CARD Act With New Annual Fees?

In a series of recent posts, WalletBlog has accused Bank of America of breaking the spirit of its “no new fees” promise and of potentially breaking the law next year, after it announced it will introduce annual fees on some existing credit card accounts in 2010.

Here’s the blog’s argument for why Bank of America isn’t honoring its promise to customers and to Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT) and Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA). On October 6th the bank released a letter in which it pledged to stop re-pricing existing credit card accounts—but introducing an annual fee where none existed before sure sounds like re-pricing, doesn’t it? BoA explained it like this: they only promised to not raise interest rates.

However, that’s not true. WalletBlog points out that the bank made no such distinction in their October 6th letter. Here’s the relevant excerpt:

“In light of the concerns expressed to us by our customers, Bank of America will not implement any change in terms (risk or economic based) re-pricing of consumer credit card accounts between now and the effective date of the CARD Act.”

That language doesn’t draw any distinctions between types of re-pricing, so it’s kind of weird to retroactively define the term as only relating to interest rates.

But this is a moot point because the letter only promises that they won’t practice re-pricing between now and the implementation of the CARD Act. After that goes into effect in February 2010, the promise no longer applies. I don’t know why BoA’s representative bothered to misrepresent the language of the letter when he could just as easily have pointed out that it was nothing more than a temporary pledge—and mostly an empty once, since they had already re-priced many accounts in the month leading up to the letter.

As far as implementing fees after the CARD Act goes into effect, well, that’s where WalletBlog says that BoA may end up in violation of the law. BoA argues that the CARD Act prohibits raising interest rates but says nothing about implementing annual fees, but WalletBlog points out that the language of the CARD Act is ambiguous, and thanks to a 1996 Supreme Court case involving Citibank, the FDIC considers the term “interest” to include:

…among other things, the following fees connected with credit extension or availability: numerical periodic rates, late fees, not sufficient funds (NSF) fees, overlimit fees, annual fees, cash advance fees, and membership fees.

It sounds like BoA may be testing the boundaries of the CARD Act and seeing if it can get away with annual fees by arguing that they’re not specifically prohibited.

Be sure to check out WalletBlog’s full post on the matter.

“Bank of America Tries but Fails to Defend New Annual Fees” [WalletBlog]
“Bank of America Readies Itself to Break the Law” [WalletBlog]
(Photo: mrkathika)