- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 13, 2002

Chevy Chase Bank has begun charging its customers $1 each time they use checks printed at home.
Consumer advocates warn that these are the types of fees banks do not advertise but that show up suddenly on monthly statements.
"Occasionally I have seen fees for checks that aren't machine readable or for checks that jam the machines," said Edmund Mierzwinski, consumer program director for the Public Interest Research Group. "I would advise consumers to be aware of this."
A dozen other banks local and national with offices in the region say they do not charge such a fee. Among them are First Union, Citibank, Allfirst, Riggs Bank, Columbia Bank and Sandy Spring Bank.
Banking industry advocates say the fees are justified because check-processing machines can only read checks printed with special magnetic ink. Using different ink or paper could slow down check processing, said John Hall, spokesman for the American Bankers Association.
"Many times the paper used [for home checks] doesn't meet the standards," he said. "It isn't thick enough to go through the machinery, or it causes the paper to tear or the machine to jam, slowing the entire system."
Several of Adams National Bank's commercial customers use self-printed checks, but the District-based bank does not charge a fee for it.
"It's problematic because when a check is not printed properly it causes that item to reject," said David Glaser, Adams senior vice president. "So if you have a customer that is creating a high volume of checks it's difficult, because it creates a lot of manual labor to actually make those checks post to a customer's account."
Few of the ABA's members have fees for homemade checks, Mr. Hall said. But those that do say they impose them because such checks raise the possibility for fraud.
The home check-printing industry has grown dramatically in the past decade along with advances in computer and printing technology.
When VersaCheck, software that allows people to print their own checks, debuted in 1996, it had from 25,000 to 50,000 customers.
Now the software is used by at least 600,000 consumers, possibly as many as a million, said James Danforth, executive vice president at G7 Productivity Systems Inc., the San Diego-based maker of VersaCheck.
Mr. Danforth said he is not concerned about these fees cutting into the home check-printing business because so many consumers are flocking to the software.
"It's very difficult for the bank to know why the check did not clear to whatever system they are using," he said. "But the banks are pretty attuned to what customers need so if that means letting customers use other checks, many will probably come around to that idea."
Bob Violette, of Sterling, Va., agrees. But he is mindful of the notice he got last week from his bank, Chevy Chase, announcing the fee.
"I've been printing home checks since 1994, and no bank has ever charged me," Mr. Violette said. "I thought [Chevy Chases announcement] was interesting."
Chevy Chase, which did not return calls for this article, has 160 branches in the Washington area.

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