Updated: How to Avoid BofA’s Debit Card Clutches

By Gar Smith
Thursday August 18, 2011 - 05:38:00 PM

When I activated my EDD debit card I choose to have the money automatically deposited in my Wells Fargo checking account. B of A deposits the money in my checking account, end of transaction. Please correct your article and inform readers how easy it is to bypass B of A.

-- letter from Planet reader Kevin Clarke

Acting on Planet reader Kevin Clarke’s email, we headed out to the nearest Berkeley Bank of America branch on Shattuck near Vine.
The bank reps insisted that they were unable to set up a transfer deposit to my existing account (at a local Credit Union). I was told that I would have to arrange a direct deposit by contacting the EDD directly. When I pulled out a copy of Kevin Clarke's note, I was informed that Clarke’s transfer must have happened because Mr. Clarke “was already a Bank of America customer." 

I was also told that I needed to wait for the EDD to mail a PIN before I could activate the new card. (This turned out to be incorrect. A BofA agent contacted by phone explained that the last six digits of the 16-digit Debit Card number can be used in lieu of a PIN.) 

When I mentioned that the Debit Card program looked like “a great marketing opportunity” for BofA to gain new customers, I was told the only reason BofA was involved was because "EDD is a customer of the Bank.” (EDD would probably rank as one of BofA’s biggest customers, since EDD paid out $22.9 billion in unemployment checks in 2010.) 

Since contacting EDD by phone is near-impossible, I clicked onto EDD’s Website. There I found a host of information on the EDD Debit Card program that is otherwise unavailable. According to the Website, EDD began “transitioning” its 1.2 million “customers” to the Debit Card in July and has been issuing EDD/BofA cards at the feverish pace of around 22,500 cards each day. 

Scrolling down EDD’s list of FAQs, there is a heading called “Debit Card Options and Activating the Card.” Subsumed within this section is a smaller headline that reads “Direct Deposit Transfers.” And here one finds the simple, straightforward, one-sentence statement that should have been included in the BofA’s mass mailings. It reads: “You do not need a checking or savings account with Bank of America to set up a direct deposit transfer to your own bank account with another banking institution.” [Emphasis in the original.] 

How to Transfer Funds to a Personal Account 

The only line on the EDD/BofA mailing that refers to transferring benefits says nothing about personal or existing accounts outside the BofA. It does, however, provide a number for “live customer service” (1-866-692-9374). This leads (naturally) to a recording. But this is where you can begin to activate your BofA card by typing in the number on the Debit Card and the last four digits of your Social Security number. 

There is no mention in the long, pre-recorded spiel about requesting the direct-deposit of funds in any other banks. It isn’t until the fifth and final option that callers are given the opportunity to speak live to a BofA representative. 

The Bank’s representative explained that direct-deposit transfers of funds can not be done by phone. It would be necessary to go online to www.bankofamerica.com/eddcard. “But you will need to have Internet Explorer since that is the only browser supported by Bank of America.” (Microsoft and BofA? Nice match.) It turns out that Firefox works just fine. 

After identifying your Debit Card by entering the 16-digit number and a new 7-digit alphanumeric PIN, a search will turn up a link to “Transfer Funds.” This leads to the “Manage Transfer-To-Accounts” page. From there it’s just another click to the “Add a new Transfer-To-Account.” Enter the 10-digit “routing number” for your personal bank and your account number. Now all you need do is give the Bank of America your personal email address and you’re done. 

Just follow these simple instructions and anyone can wrestle their way out of the clutches of the BofA. 

Editor's Note: Good luck.