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Wells Fargo Tests New Debit-Card Fee

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Wells Fargo (WFC - Get Report) announced it will start charging a new $3 monthly fee to customers in four states beginning Oct. 14 as it seeks to replace lost revenue.

Both business and personal debit card users in Georgia, New Mexico, Nevada and Oregon will have the fee levied as part of a pilot program that may eventually be rolled out to the rest of the country. The bank said customers who don't use their debit cards won't have to pay the fee.

The Wells Fargo action comes ahead of a new limit on so-called "swipe fees" which banks charge retailers when customers use their debit cards to make a purchase. As a result of last year's Dodd-Frank legislation, the Federal Reserve has moved to cap the fee banks can charge per debit-card transaction at 21 cents from Oct. 1. Banks earned an average of 44 cents per transaction in 2009.

In a Securities and Exchange Commission filing dated June 30, Wells Fargo estimated the fee cap will cost the bank a billion dollars in lost revenue annually.

"We regularly review our pricing and take into account the needs of our customers, industry trends, the market competition and our cost of doing business," a spokeswoman said.

Tom Mitchell, a senior analyst with Miller Tabak, said this move was widely anticipated.

"We've expected everybody in the business to find ways to introduce charges one way or another to make up for the lost revenues," he told TheStreet on Wednesday.

Mitchell said it's likely Wells Fargo surveyed customers as to whether they would pay for the convenience of using their debit card ahead of testing the fees in October.

"What level of charges would the market be willing to bear? It sounds to me that it's low enough that they may do just fine with it. It won't be a total offset (of lost revenue) I don't think, but it'll be an offset," he added.

Other banks have already moved to minimize the effect of the new "swipe fees" cap. JPMorgan Chase (JPM - Get Report) is currently testing a $3.50 debit card fee in northern Wisconsin.

-- Written by Niamh Sweeney.

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