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Banks defer fees, late charges for storm-hit customers

Banks have temporarily waived a variety of fees and late charges for residents of states hit hard by Hurricane Sandy. It is an effort to ease pressure on customers to make bill payments when many remain without power.

The shelving of fees came as banks moved on Wednesday to reopen thousands of branches and ATMs that had been shut down due to storm damage, power outages, or inaccessibility after the blockbuster storm.

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Chase, the nation’s largest bank, reopened 587 branches in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, or 55 percent of its total in the Tri-State region. More than 40 percent of its 3,200 area ATMs were not yet up and running, however.

PNC said it had reopened hundreds of branches in the Northeast, and other banks were doing the same. HSBC said it opened 101 of 189 affected branches in the New York City area, Connecticut, and New Jersey.

Customers may be inconvenienced by severe storms but generally do not need to worry about their banking information. Financial institutions tend to be well-prepared for natural disasters, said Greg McBride, senior financial analyst for Bankrate.com. Even local and regional banks often have data centers backed up in another part of the country, he said.

Here is a look at what some of the biggest banks are doing:

 JPMorgan Chase: The country’s biggest bank told customers by e-mail Tuesday that it would extend through Thursday its waiver or automatic refunds of certain fees for those living in Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and the District of Columbia. The bank added customers in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island to the list.

Eligible fees: Those for fund transfers between accounts for overdraft protection, extended overdrafts, returned items, and insufficient funds fees for deposit accounts. Also, late fees on credit cards and on business and consumer loans, including mortgages, home-equity, auto, and student loans.

 Bank of America: Customers affected by severe storms and floods in Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Maine, Massachusetts, Virginia, and the District of Columbia may qualify to receive a refund on any overdraft, insufficient funds, and non-Bank of America ATM fees incurred as a result of storm conditions.

Also, customers may qualify to receive credit line increases on their existing Bank of America Visa card and MasterCard; modify or extend payments on loans, credit cards or lines of credit; receive special assistance with lost, missing or late loan or card payments; and avoid early withdrawal penalties on bank certificates of deposit.

 Citigroup: Customers in the affected areas were told via e-mail Wednesday that Citi will proactively waive fees through Tuesday on overdraft protection, insufficient funds, and late payments on credit cards and loans, and early withdrawal on certificates of deposit for recovery use.

 Wells Fargo Customers can see a waiver of late fees on credit cards and on consumer and certain small-business loans, including home equity, auto, and student loans. Wells Fargo also said it is waiving the fee it normally charges bank customers for using another bank’s ATMs in Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, or the District of Columbia.

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