Banks, Credit Cards and service providers insist on charging consumers even for the Basic functions

Charges for nothing......Shruti Srivastava 
Fees, fees and more fees fill up your monthly statement as banks, credit cards and service providers insist on charging consumers for basic functions. Shruti Srivastava takes a deeper at your losses.

These days it costs to pay your own bills; even if you do it before the due date, and cash down! That’s what New Delhi-based Vijay Kumar realised when he faced problems with his Internet banking and chose to pay his Standard Chartered Bank credit card bill in cash at a branch near his place. The teller at the branch informed him that paying the bill in cash would cost him Rs 120. To avoid it, the teller said, he could make the payment through cheque or Net banking.

Ridiculous, it may seem. But banks and other service providers levy a host of charges that border on fleecing. While it is not known how much such charges add to their toplines, surely these pinch your pockets and more than anything else leave behind a feeling of harassment and helplessness.

As far as banks are concerned, till 1997, the Indian Banks’ Association used to keep a check on service charges and fees levied by banks. Later on, individual banks were given discretionary powers to decide charges. However, after a flood of complaints by consumers, banking regulator Reserve Bank of India (RBI) set up a working group for assessing the ‘ Reasonableness of Bank Charges’ in 2006 for standardising the service fee charges for basic banking services. The RBI also asked banks to display the service charges for all the normal banking transactions on their websites.

The RBI’s move was also a result of strong arguments made by several consumer organisations, claiming that bank customers in India are mostly “captive” because of the difficult procedure in changing their banks even when they are not satisfied with the services offered. Customers forced to pay the absurd charges have found support in an unlikely place — the Internet. A page called ‘I’m-tired-of-ridiculous-charges-and-fees-from-my-bank’ has been set up on social networking site Facebook!

Though sectors like telecom and aviation are regulated by Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) and Director General of Civil Aviation and Airport Economic Regulatory Authority (AERA), the loony charges by these sectors remain a sore point with customers.

Welcome to the world of charges.

1. Penalty on Deposit of cash in collector box : ICICI charges its customers Rs 100 if they deposit cash in a box meant for collecting cheques. The charge increases to Rs 300 in case the deposit amount is above Rs 500 and repeat instances of cash deposits through cheque drop box attracts an increased charge of Rs 500 for any amount. That means if you deposit Rs 600 by mistake in the collector box, the bank will charge Rs 300 on the transaction!

2. Free Debit card: When debit-cum-ATM cards were introduced by banks, the idea was to encourage customers not to overcrowd banks for something as simple as withdrawal of cash. For those fearing technology, it was criminal to do so while for the more tech-savvy ones, it was time saving. Then the banks introduced the facility of using debit card for making several payments ranging from bill payments to shopping. However, banks like HDFC charge an annual fee plus taxes for debit card. There is no pattern of charging for lost card or replacement cards with some banks like ICICI charging Rs 200 per card while HDFC charging Rs 100 plus taxes for the same. ICICI imposes a surcharge on fuel purchases at HPCL outlets. It is nil for transactions above Rs 400, while 2.5 per cent subject to a minimum of Rs 2 for transactions up to Rs 400. While at non-HPCL outlets, the charges is 2.5 per cent of purchase or Rs 10 per transaction whichever is higher. Booking of railway tickets through debit card attracts 1.8 per cent of the transaction value. Standard Chartered bank also charges the higher of a surcharge of 2.5 per cent on the purchase value or Rs 10 while using debit card at petrol pumps.

3. Charges for unsolicited services : Supriya was surprised when she got a debit card of a leading public sector bank without even asking for it. She called the customer care to report the same and was assured that it would be taken care of. But it has been a year and she has been charged for services on the debit card she never asked for. Many banks have been providing such unsolicited services and charging for the same, thereby hassling customers. Though in many such cases the charges levied are minimum, but when added keeping in mind the number of branches and the reach of the bank across the country, the amount is staggering.

4. Foreign banks charging for inter-bank withdrawals from ATMs: Rina Prasad, a housewife, had to pay a transaction fee when she went to next door HSBC bank ATM to withdraw money using an SBI Debit card. As per the RBI guidelines, in a month, five withdrawals from ATMs of any other bank are free of service charges and after that, a fee of Rs 20 is charged. However, Rina was puzzled as this was her very first transaction from a bank other than SBI. While inserting the card, a message on the screen conveyed to her that HSBC being a foreign bank is not governed by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) guidelines and hence she would be charged for the same.

5. Inter-bank fund transfer: Udita Bhattacharya went to a nearby HDFC bank branch to transfer funds in her friend’s account, which is in another branch located some 15 km from her home. While depositing the money she was told that Rs 100 would be charged for transferring fund from one branch to the other. “But which bank does that?” she questioned. “We do”, he said. Few banks have started the practice of charging their customers for core banking services like these. According to Citizen Consumer and Civic Action Group, a consumer organisation, core banking system (CBS) has become an excuse for many banks to cover up their faulty practices.

6. Account closure: As the consumer organisations have been rightly pointing out, a bank customer is captive. If you want to close your account within six months of opening it, you have to pay Rs 100 after the first 14 days of opening the account. HSBC charges Rs 1,000 for the same if the account if closed in less than 6 months of account opening and ICICI charges Rs 500 from 31 days to one year.

7. Charging erroneously: Not only are the charges loony, in many cases banks charge wrongly for a transaction. For example, according to a consumer organisation, a customer in Chennai was charged because his cheque bounced due to insufficient funds in his account. He was surprised because a few days back he had deposited Rs 50,000 in his account. On enquiring further and producing the receipt of deposit slip, he learnt that the bank had wrongly credited the entry in an another account. The victim is yet to get the money wrongly credited and the amount charged for the bounced cheque.

8. Customer care, a paid service: It may come as a surprise but Vodafone has started charging for its customer care services. So next time you call for registering a complaint or knowing your account balance or usage, you would be charged as per the extant tariff. Other services providers like Airtel are still doing it for free. But you never know when others might start following the trend.

9. Unsolicited calls & messages while roaming: Rajeev disliked caller tunes. But he was provided one by his service provider Uninor without even informing him. When he called up the customer care, he was told that he requested for it! Aghast, he gave the customer care executive a piece of his mind and asked them to remove the caller tune. Another problem which customers face is a torrent of unsolicited messages both from their service provider and telemarketer. Not only are these messages annoying, they also cost you when you are availing of roaming facility.

10. Seat assignment by airlines: Did you know that your coveted seats with more leg space costs you a bit extra? Low cost airlines such as SpiceJet and Indigo charge around Rs 300 per passenger for seats in the front row or near emergency exit points, which have extra leg space. If the passenger wants a seat allocated before check-in, he has to pay Rs 50 extra.