By Diane Bartz, Jeff Mason and Douglas Gillison
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The Biden administration took another shot at unpopular junk fees on Wednesday by proposing that businesses be required to disclose mandatory fees up front and instructing banks not to impose excessive charges for basic information such as account balances.
The battle against junk fees is part of President Joe Biden’s administration’s effort to ease strains on voter pocketbooks as an election year approaches.
Biden, a Democrat, is running for a second four-year term, and Republicans are hammering him over inflation and the state of the economy.
Biden said that his administration had worked to fight junk fees in industries ranging from banking to hotels to live entertainment, rental housing and cable.
“Research shows that without realizing it, folks can end up paying as much as 20% more because of hidden junk fees than they would have paid if they could see the full price up front and compare it with other options. It’s wrong,” Biden said during remarks in the White House Rose Garden.
He praised Airbnb for offering all-in prices for vacation rentals up front.
Taking on “junk fees” gives Biden and his allies fodder to show they are helping people tackle costs as many Americans are dissatisfied with his economic stewardship.
The administration has previously proposed a rule to require airlines to disclose fees upfront.
The Federal Trade Commission proposed a new rule on Wednesday to ban hidden fees across a swath of industries including car rental agencies, hotels, and event ticketing providers. The agency estimated the fees cost consumers tens of billions of dollars annually on items such as hotel resort fees.
“These junk fees function as an invisible tax that quietly inflates prices across the economy,” FTC Chair Lina Khan told reporters on a conference call on Tuesday ahead of the White House event.
Businesses would have to include all required fees in the original price that they give customers, making comparison shopping easier, the FTC said.
The proposed new rule would allow the agency to demand monetary penalties from companies that violate it and win refunds for customers, it said.
Meanwhile, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau on Wednesday issued an advisory opinion that banks and credit unions cannot charge excessive fees to consumers who want to check an account balances or find out what how much they need to pay off a loan.
The CFPB earlier this year proposed cutting credit card late fees, which has angered banks. The CFPB in February proposed a limit on late fees, setting an $8 threshold above which card issuers would need to offer justifications, down from the current $30.
The Supreme Court is considering a legal challenge to the CFPB’s funding structure brought by the payday loan industry which the administration says constitutes a threat to the agency’s viability.
(Reporting by Diane Bartz, Jeff Mason and Douglas Gillison; Editing by Richard Chang)