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Why banking at Walmart is a lot more expensive than shopping there

As a retailer Walmart (WMT) is known to sell cheap products, but that's not the case with banking at  Walmart stores. The Wall Street Journal reports Monday that the independent banks operating inside about 40% of Walmart stores collected more in fees than in loan income -- unlike the thousands of other U.S. banks, where the reverse is true.

The majority of the fees charged by the five banks operating in Walmart stores comes from overdraft charges. The banks -- Fort Sill National Bank, City National Bank and Trust, Woodforest National Bank, First Convenience Bank and Sunbank NA -- don't necessarily charge more for overdrafts. Rather their customers use overdrafts more often than most bank customers.

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"For many people overdraft fees are just paying for a loan," says Mike Santoli, senior columnist at Yahoo Finance, in the video above. It's how many low-income Americans manage their finances, he adds.

"There are millions of Americans who really don't have a choice," says The Daily Ticker's Aaron Task. "So they're going to pay somebody an enormous fee whether it's a loan shark, or a bank inside of Walmart or a payday lender."

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The Journal, in fact, quotes a customer service worker who willingly pays overdraft fees to her bank operating inside Walmart because "it's cheaper than a payday loan." But if her bank fees were calculated as an annual percentage interest rate, as most loans are quoted, the APR would top 300%, according to the Journal.

Should these banks charge lower fees or limit overdrafts for clients of limited means? Or should Walmart pressure the banks operating in its stores to charge less?

"It may be possible for Walmart to put the squeeze on [these] banks like they do with every other supplier," says Santoli.

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It's also possible for Walmart to get its own banking license. The world's largest retailer had filed for one previously but withdrew that bid in 2007.

"I would think that if Walmart got a banking license it  could ... still charge big fees but they would be lower than what people are paying now," says Task.

Both Task and Santoli agree that Walmart is not the villain here. Rather, the situation reflects the "kind of choices people have to make when they don't have other ways to bridge to the next paycheck," says Santoli.

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