Wells Fargo charged students $46.99 a year in fees on average. College students who used accounts with PNC typically paid $15.84 a year. (Most Americans pay around $9 a month, or $108 a year, for their checking accounts, according to consumer finance site Bankrate).
“A lot of college students are on really, really tight budgets,” said Whitney Barkley-Denney, a specialist in student finance at the Center for Responsible Lending. “Any kind of disruption in that cash flow can be devastating.”
Wells Fargo waives monthly fees on debit cards in its campus program, and so any charges are a result of how the card is used, said Jim Seitz, a spokesman for the bank.
“Customers use their accounts in different ways, so saving, spending and other transaction activity varies,” Seitz said.
PNC does not charge a monthly fee on student accounts and it waives the first overdraft fee in the account’s first year, said Amy Vargo, vice president of media at the bank.
To be sure, at most colleges, a majority of students paid no fees when using sponsored accounts, the CFPB found.
Banks can compensate colleges based on the number of students who open and use their accounts, a practice that has raised concerns for consumer advocates.
“When you promote marketing of one financial product over another, it tends to remove the students’ incentive to comparison shop,” said Colleen Campbell, associate director of postsecondary education at the Center for American Progress.
Nearly 120 colleges report being rewarded by a bank to promote its financial products, according to the bureau. Wells Fargo paid $2,127,554 to colleges in the 2016-2017 academic year. PNC paid $7,562,570.
In its agreement with Wells Fargo, Texas State University could receive up to $300,000 if every enrolled student were to open an account.