Poll: We'll put down the debit cards if they're not free

Hand holding gold credit card

What's your pain point when it comes to debit card fees?

According to a new Associated Press-GfK poll, nearly two-thirds of us (61%) would ditch the debit card if our bank charged a $3 monthly fee. If the fee were $5, 66% would bail on debit card use, and if the monthly fee rose to $7, eight out of 10 of us (81%) would find another way to pay.

Hey, we like debit cards.

The poll found that two-thirds of the survey group uses debit cards over credit cards at the register.

But for a fee? Mmm, not so much.

The poll comes less than three months before a new cap goes into effect this October that will lower the "swipe fee," meaning the money that banks charge merchants each time a debit card is used, from an average of 44 cents down to 24 cents per transaction. The Fed estimates that at the 44-cent level, banks were making an outrageous 400% on debit card transactions.

Conventional wisdom suggests the banks aren't going to simply swallow that loss, which could amount to nearly half of a $20 billion annual revenue stream.

Indeed, some banks, including Chase, PNC and Wells Fargo, have already scrapped or revamped their debit rewards programs. Free checking programs also declined last year for the first time since 2003.

Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf last month served notice that his bank is looking at three options to make up the shortfall: raise account balance minimums, charge for checking and/or introduce a debit card fee.

Chase is already field-testing a new $3 monthly fee for debit cards on new accounts in northern Wisconsin and a $15 monthly fee on basic checking accounts in Atlanta.

Last year, credit card interest rates spiked in the wake of financial reform, leaving many of those polled cool to the idea of pulling out the big guns. Among those who said they'd forego using debit if a fee were charged, 53% said they would pay with cash and 42% with check rather than resort to a credit card.

Will banks read the latest figures as a red light, a caution-yellow light or a full-on green light to bring on debit card fees?

My hunch is, they're way beyond caring.

When faced with a $10 billion shortfall, banks do what banks gotta do.

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