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Big banks waive fees in Hurricane Sandy aftermath

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A customer stands at an ATM machine at a Bank of America office in Burbank, California
A customer stands at an ATM machine at a Bank of America office in Burbank, California

By Sam Forgione and Rick Rothacker

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Major U.S. banks, including Bank of America Corp., JP Morgan Chase & Co., Wells Fargo & Co. and Citigroup, are waiving customer fees in states hit by superstorm Sandy, and in some cases are extending the period in which waivers are in effect, as communities struggle to recover.

Bank of America on Thursday said in a note to customers in states affected by Hurricane Sandy that they do not have to call the bank to get overdraft, late payment, and other fees waived. The bank said it will automatically waive many charges incurred between Monday, October 29, and Monday, November 5.

The bank was updating a statement from Tuesday when it said that customers in these states may get fees waived by calling the bank or visiting a branch.

"Due to prolonged power outages, we recognize that calling may be difficult," the bank said in Thursday's note. "You don't need to call us for refunds to many fees."

Bank of America, the second largest U.S. bank by assets, added that customers should call its Hurricane Sandy assistance line if they want to increase the credit limits on their credit cards or seek payment modifications or extensions.

Bank of America spokesman Larry Di Rita said the bank has a longstanding policy that customers affected by hurricanes do not have to pay fees, and it wanted to make sure they were not worried about those charges.

"Whether it is now or a month from now, this communication reminds customers that we are here to help and to let us know what else they may need," he said.

More than 80 percent of Bank of America's branches in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic states are now open, the bank said.

JP Morgan Chase & Co., the nation's largest bank, said on Thursday it was extending fee waivers until Monday, November 5, after initially setting an earlier date of October 31. The New York-based bank on Thursday also said it will waive all mortgage-related fees and offer a 90-day period of relief from mortgage payments to customers seeking assistance in areas hit by the storm.

"We plan to be one of the key engines toward this recovery," said Jamie Dimon, chief executive officer of the bank, as part of a statement released on the bank's charitable donations and customer relief efforts.

Prior to the statements from Bank of America and JP Morgan, Wells Fargo & Co.said on Wednesday that it would continue to waive fees for customers who use another bank's ATM machines until November 3 in eight states hit by the hurricane.

The bank added that it would continue to waive late fees on credit cards and auto, home-equity and student loans until November 3 in 12 states.

Citigroup- under the helm of new chief executive Michael Corbat - also said on Wednesday that its customer relief efforts would include protection against overdrafts, a late payment option for credit products, and refunds on fees from the use of other banks' ATM machines.

(Reporting by Rick Rothacker; Additional reporting by Sam Forgione; editing by Jim Marshall)

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