Wells Fargo’s debit card fees a slap to unemployed Nevadans

Wells Fargo likes to say it’s dedicated to serving the community, but don’t take my word for it.

From the company Web site: “At Wells Fargo, Community Reinvestment is an integral part of our business culture. Wells Fargo has long understood that we can be no stronger, nor more successful, than the neighborhoods and communities where we do business. Supporting our communities allows us to better meet our customers’ financial needs and helps us to achieve our goal to be one of America’s best companies.”

Nobody asked me, but I think Wells Fargo could make a much more convincing argument about its dedication to serving the community by cutting the fees it charges thousands of unemployed Southern Nevadans who use the banking giant’s Nevada Visa Debit Card issued through the state Department of Employment, Training & Rehabilitation.

On average, I receive at least one complaint a week from an unemployed resident who has unknowingly been nicked time and again for fees associated with using the Wells Fargo card.

When you’re struggling to make ends meet on a couple hundred bucks a week in unemployment benefits, every dollar counts. And Wells Fargo appears to be counting plenty of those dollars, too.

I called the state’s Employment Department to raise the issue and was reminded that all the rules of the card’s use — six pages of them with two pages in agate type — are posted on the department’s Web site. Just commit all the rules to memory while keeping the wolf from the door, and don’t forget to have a nice day.

The Employment Department’s Web site beams about the program: “The Nevada Visa Debit Card is convenient and provides easy access to your benefits. It is not necessary to have a bank account to enjoy all the advantages of the Nevada Visa Debit Card.”

Users get two free cash withdrawals per month and pay $1.25 for each withdrawal thereafter. A Wells Fargo ATM cash advance is $1.25.

For the unemployed, every penny is precious. Want to check your balance on an ATM?

After one freebie per month, that inquiry will cost you 50 cents.

While you’re careful not to check your balance, you might find your ATM request is denied because of insufficient funds. Check it once, check it twice, but checking it a third time during the month will cost you another 50 cents for each attempt.

Lose a card? That will cost you $5. Want the replacement card to beat the eviction notice to your front door? That will run you $12.

You say you’re confused and would like to speak with a human being about your balance. I can’t blame you, but Wells Fargo can charge you 35 cents for each call exceeding five in a month.

Unemployed Southern Nevadans have told me their efforts to use the card to pay bills online have been somewhat successful. But they also say they’ve had problems getting double billed, and tell me they’ve been unable to get the bank to clear up the mess in a timely manner without also charging them fees.

When you’re out of work and trying to survive on unemployment, time is of the essence.

At Wells Fargo, the robbers don’t bother to wear masks. But if you play the system just right and have the balance of a Flying Wallenda, you can avoid the fees. Asking for cash back in excess of a purchase, using free withdrawals at Wells Fargo ATMs and seeking out a Visa member bank are three ways the state lists to bypass the mugging.

Statewide, 189,000 Nevadans are jobless with 13.9 percent of Clark County’s work force unemployed. It’s far worse in the construction trades, where 55 percent of the jobs have been lost since 2006.

This community is deeply hurting.

If Wells Fargo really wants to make a memorable community statement, it will stop nickel-and-diming Southern Nevada’s increasingly desperate unemployed.

John L. Smith’s column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. E-mail him at Smith@reviewjournal.com or call (702) 383-0295. He also blogs at lvrj.com/blogs/smith.

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