Wall Street’s Mutant Greed Gene Marches On
Forget the PR perfume that BOA's now spritzing around, Bank of America stinks to its core.
But it's hardly alone in reflexively doing things that most of us would recognize as wrong from our kindergarten days. Perhaps there's some sort of greed gene that prompts compulsive outbreaks of financial graspiness by giant bankers. How else to explain the chronic gouges, excesses and scandals that we're getting from this one, small subgroup of human beings?
Their latest reach is into the pockets of low- and modest-income college students who need federal student aid to help cope with today's ever-escalating education costs. For decades, this financial assistance has come in the form of simple checks written to the students by the aid program or administered directly by the schools. But, of course, such straightforward simplicity begged the obvious question: How can we expect Wall Street bankers to grab a chunk of this student education money if it's not routed directly through them?
Thus, from deep inside a particularly inventive banker somewhere, the greed gene shouted: "debit cards!" Rather than disbursing the aid by checks, banks get universities to issue debit cards for students to use to withdraw their aid funds electronically.
This third-party play was pitched to Congress as a nice, convenient service to help hard-pressed students. But wait — these are bankers. They don't do nice — at least, not for free. Sure enough, the campus debit cards, cheerily emblazoned with each school's logo, have hooked more than 9 million needy students into an insidious fee system, ranging from 50 cents per swipe of their cards to a $10 "inactivity fee" — yes, a fee for not using their card frequently enough.
Some 900 campuses have signed card deals with such outfits as Wells Fargo and Higher One. These high-flying financiers grin from ear to ear as they line their pockets with tens of millions of dollars a year that they siphon from the public fund that was meant to extend America's educational opportunities to working-class and poor families. Banks get the goldmine, students get shaft.
For information about this rip-off — and for action tips on preventing it — get a copy of "The Campus Debit Card Trap" by the U.S. PIRG Education Fund. Go to www.uspirgedfund.org.