Fee'd Me: NY AG to Investigate Use of 'Payroll Cards' that Depress Already Low Take-Home Pay

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is opening an investigation into the use of payroll cards by large companies.  These debit-like cards are used in lieu of writing checks.  

Some of the companies being probed -- this includes McDonalds, WalMart, Walgreens, and Home Depot -- say they provide this service as an option for workers without a bank account in order to 'help' them avoid higher fees from check-cashing services. But recent complaints filed with Schneiderman's office indicate that some workers fear retaliation if they opt out. Others feel underinformed about the pros and cons, meaning they can't fully take advantage of the 'option.'  The AG's office is concerned with how the fees associated with such cards affect a worker’s take home pay, according to the New York Times:

Mr. Schneiderman’s office is examining whether the companies have violated state labor laws, say the people briefed on the matter who were not authorized to discuss the investigation publicly. Under New York law, employees must give their explicit consent before companies can credit funds to a payroll card. His office is also investigating whether the employers are forcing workers to use payroll cards as a condition of their employment, these people said. State law also requires that employees have an option for getting their wages without incurring any fees.

While there is no legal action being taken by the Attorney General’s office as of yet, companies are being forced to turn over records so that Schneiderman can get a clearer view of what is happening.  There are concerns that the cards may violate state labor laws:

Walgreen employees are offered payroll cards as an option and aren’t required to accept wages on the cards, Jim Graham, a spokesman for the Deerfield, Illinois-based company, said in an e-mail. The company negotiated agreements with ATM providers in its stores to accept Walgreen pay cards without fees for withdrawals, he said. The cards also give employees immediate access to their pay, and those without bank accounts can avoid fees they may otherwise pay to cash checks, Graham said.

But not all companies are taking the same steps as Walgreen’s and their workers are feeling the slow bleed of fees.  A separate New York Times piece looked at specific cases of negative impact:

Devonte Yates, 21, who earns $7.25 an hour working a drive-through station at a McDonald’s in Milwaukee, says he spends $40 to $50 a month on fees associated with his JPMorgan Chase payroll card. “It’s pretty bad,” he said. “There’s a fee for literally everything you do.”

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Chaz Bolte
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