An Occupy Wall Street spinoff group called Occupy Money Cooperative is attempting to establish a debit card that seeks to offer "low-cost, transparent, high quality financial services to the 99%." This is a good idea. It's flagship product is the Occupy Card, a debit card that purports to "provide the basic financial services that people need and use on a daily basis without the cost, or the balances required for a regular bank account."
This is a great, if not altogether new, concept. In fact, not-for-profit banking organizations focused on keeping retail banking costs as low as possible already exist in the form of credit unions. The prospect of everyone taking their money out of Wells Fargo and putting it in Affinity Plus fairly terrifies for-profit banking institutions, who rely on the huge amounts of cash-on-hand a big retail banking base provides, and who have lobbied like the dickens to keep credit unions limited in size and power for decades with wildly successful results. By law, credit unions must limit their pool of eligibility for membership. If this seems arbitrary and anti-market, that's because it is. It's the naked result of the financial lobby's attempts to retain control of everyone's money. From a purely avaristic point of view it's not hard to see why they want it: consumers paid $32 billion in overdraft fees in 2012. That is a lot of money for nothing.
As Hamilton Nolan, resident money wonk at Gawker, argues, a widely-available, cheap card could "save poor people money, and provide a service, and be a thumb in the eye to big banks all at the same time." And he is right! But the Occupy Card in its current form is not that card.
We'll use as comparison my old debit card with TCF Bank, which I had until November 2011. Draws from a TCF ATM were free, and you were allowed four draws from non-host ATMs before it started charging $1.75 each time. Overdrafts were, if I remember, $30 a transaction, which was pretty bogus. But on a normal year I probably didn't spend any money to maintain the card, because I almost never overdrafted (no small feat for a college student) and I lived within a half mile of about 10 TCF ATMS. Closing the account was free.
Compare this to the costs of the Occupy Card. A $.99 monthly fee, a $1.95 ATM draw fee (that's on top of what each ATM charges, since there are no native Occupy ATMs (yet?)), a $2 fee for contacting customer service, $2 for declining at an ATM, $12 to close your account, and $9.99 to replace the card.
This is not cheap for a card billing itself as such. It's not cheap compared to cards offered by for-profit financial institutions, and its especially not cheap compared to other not-for-profit institutions. I would be surprised if I've spent anything on my current credit union card. You couldn't say the same of the Occupy Card, not if you have a question for them or want to have a card for a month or close your account or withdraw any money.
A low-cost, widely-accessible charge card would be great. You know, hypothetically.
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