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Citibank to keep checking accounts free until at least 2011

The bank had planned to start charging $9.50 a month for balances below $1,500. It holds off in a settlement with the New York attorney general, who said customers did not receive adequate notice.

February 02, 2010|By Nathaniel Popper

Reporting from New York — The battles over bank fees may be shifting from credit cards to other types of accounts.

Citigroup Inc.'s Citibank unit this month had planned to start charging a $9.50 monthly fee on checking accounts it had marketed as free. But in a settlement announced Monday with New York Atty. Gen. Andrew Cuomo, the banking giant agreed to keep the accounts free until at least 2011.

After Congress passed a law last year making it harder for banks to raise interest rates and other fees on credit cards, some industry lobbyists said the law, which takes effect Feb. 22, would force financial institutions to find ways to make up for lost revenue.

"We want to make sure that banks aren't turning around and trying to charge customers through a different means," Cuomo said at a news conference.

Consumer groups said Citibank hasn't been alone in trying to raise fees on checking accounts.

"These big banks relied on their credit-card division as a cash engine, and now they will have to find other methods of earning money," said Edmund Mierzwinski, a consumer advocate with the U.S. Public Interest Research Group.

For much of last year, Citibank offered free checking accounts to anyone who met some minimal conditions. In November, it stopped advertising the free checking and told customers that they would be charged if they had a balance of less than $1,500.

Cuomo argued that Citibank didn't give adequate notice to the estimated 1 million customers who would have been hit by the new fees. In settling, Citibank did not admit any wrongdoing.


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