NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Bank of America's ( BAC - Get Report) decision to begin charging a
monthly fee of $5 for debit card purchases has generated so much uproar among its customers that thousands are threatening to take their business elsewhere. A poll run by TheStreet last week following its announcement attracted more than 7,000 voters and an explosive number of comments. Of those who voted, 83%, or 5,868 voters, said they were "sick of being nickeled and dimed" and would stop banking with the nation's largest bank by assets. Only 11%, or 845 voters, said they will just find ways to avoid the fee by using cash, and 353 readers admitted that, much as they hated the fee, they were simply too lazy to switch banks. We took that as an indication that customers really meant it when they said they would shut their accounts. Hundreds of thousands of customers have signed an online petition to get the bank to roll back its fees. > > Bull or Bear? Vote in Our Poll Bank of America and other banks including JPMorgan Chase ( JPM - Get Report), Citigroup ( C - Get Report) and Wells Fargo ( WFC - Get Report) are slapping new fees on customers as they seek to offset the loss to revenues from new regulations that limit how much they can charge merchants for processing debit card transactions. Bank of America has previously said that it expects the regulation, called the Durbin Amendment after Senator Dick Durbin who drafted the rules, to cost it an annual $2 billion in revenues. Still, Bank of America's fee has been singled out by customers and politicians as a particularly unfair fee. Senator Durbin said on the Senate floor earlier this week that Bank of America's customers should "vote with your feet, get the heck out of that bank." President Obama also added his two cents, saying banks "don't have some inherent right just to, you know, get a certain amount of profit, if your customers are being mistreated." Bank of America chief Brian Moynihan defended the bank's actions at the Washington Ideas Forum earlier this week, arguing that the fee was fully disclosed and that the bank had a right to make a profit. "What's important is being clear to the customers, providing the great service we provide and making a profit that we can return to our shareholders," he said.
It didn't help matters that the bank's Web site ran into operational difficulties for most of the past week, prompting speculation that it was under some sort of hacking attack. The bank said late Wednesday that the site was going through a technological upgrade and that heavy customer traffic had overwhelmed it. Most of the 400-plus commenters on the poll said they would start going to their credit union where they will get better service. But at least some laid the blame on regulators. "It's been abundantly clear ever since the debit interchange limit was first proposed that it was ultimately going to hurt consumers in the form of higher fees and that is precisely what is currently happening," one reader commented. Others noted that retailers who benefited from the regulation are yet to pass on the savings to customers. Overwhelmingly though, customers were miffed, with many drawing comparisons to Netflix ( NFLX) and its recent price hikes. While the furor might die down, the bank's ability to find new revenue offsets is sure to be among the many questions raised during Bank of America's third quarter earnings call in a couple of weeks. -- Written by Shanthi Bharatwaj in New York >To contact the writer of this article, click here: Shanthi Bharatwaj. >To follow the writer on Twitter, go to http://twitter.com/shavenk. >To submit a news tip, send an email to: email@example.com.