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Everybody’s Fighting Over Bank Fees

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The fight over bank fees and fairness continues, as President Obama, leading banking industry figures and a diverse group of Wall Street protesters continue to debate bank profits and how the industry should be regulated.

Obama moved the debate forward in a press conference Thursday night, clarifying his previous statements about Bank of America’s new $5 monthly fee for debit card purchases while ratcheting up his critique of the financial industry. In a previous interview with ABC News, Obama seemed to suggest that Bank of America’s fee should be regulated by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

[Related article: Obama Blasts BofA’s New $5 Fee]

“I absolutely do not think that,” Obama said during the press conference. “I was trying to make a broader point, which is that people have been using financial regulation as an excuse to charge consumers more.”

But the president did not walk away from his broader critique of the banking industry, defending his push for tougher regulation.

“(O)ne of the biggest problems about the collapse of Lehman and the subsequent financial crisis and the whole subprime lending fiasco is that a lot of that stuff wasn’t necessarily illegal, it was just immoral or inappropriate or reckless,” he said. “That’s exactly why we needed to pass Dodd-Frank, to prohibit some of these practices.”

Meanwhile, banking industry leaders stepped out to defend themselves. Days after Bank of America introduced its debit card fee, Citibank announced it will begin charging fees up to $20 a month for customers with less than $15,000 in all their Citi accounts. Currently the bank charges $15 a month, and the minimum requirement is $6,000.

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Nessa Feddis, vice president of the American Bankers Association, defended the decision, telling CNN Money that charging people money for their accounts is much like any other business that provides a service in exchange for a fee.

“We don’t expect to pay nothing to ride the train,” she said. “It’s the same thing with a checking account.”

And Brian Moynihan, CEO of Bank of America, defended his decision to charge the bank’s customers $5 a month to make purchases with their debit cards, according to CNBC’s Larry Kudlow. “I have an inherent duty as a CEO of a publicly held company to get a return for my shareholders,” Moynihan said.

Speaking at the same event, organized by The Atlantic magazine, Vice President Joe Biden said that Bank of America’s $5 fee is one of the things motivating people to join the Occupy Wall Street protests.

“At a minimum, they are incredibly tone deaf,” Biden said of Bank of America’s decision. “At a minimum. At a maximum, they are not paying their fair share of the bargain here. And middle-class people are getting killed.”

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Image: Alex Proimos, via Flickr.com

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