Agency: Opting for overdrafts means higher fees

WASHINGTON — A U.S. agency says consumers who opt for overdraft coverage on their checking accounts pay higher fees and are more likely to have their accounts closed than those who decline it.

A report by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau released Tuesday says it’s hard for consumers to anticipate and avoid overdraft charges. It found that the cost for “opting in” for overdraft coverage varies widely from one bank to the next.

Customers of some banks paid average charges of $298 annually, while those at others paid $147.

The CFPB has been investigating overdraft fees, which are a major source of banks’ revenue. The agency has said its examination could result in new rules.

The Consumer Bankers Association, which represents large U.S. banks and regional banks, urged the CFPB against adopting any policy that it said could push consumers toward financial firms outside the banking industry which are less strictly regulated by the government and offer costlier alternatives.

“Consumers have the right to choose the products and features which best provide for their family’s daily financial needs,” Richard Hunt, the group’s president and CEO, said in a statement Tuesday. “Fortunately, the marketplace for checking accounts is extremely competitive and banks make every effort to educate their customers about the options available to them.”

Banks charge overdraft fees when customers try to spend more money than they have in an account.

Banks will allow the transaction and then charge the customer a penalty of as much as $35.

Consumer advocates say overdraft fees hurt the people who can least afford them because poorer customers are more likely to drain their checking accounts to close to zero.

“Consumers need to anticipate and avoid unnecessary fees on their checking accounts,” CFPB Director Richard Cordray said in a statement. “But we are concerned that some overdraft practices may increase consumer costs beyond reasonable expectations.”

In 2010, the Federal Reserve barred banks from automatically enrolling customers in so-called overdraft protection programs for debit card or ATM transactions. Banks must obtain a customer’s consent, or “opt-in.” Without overdraft protection, a transaction is declined if the customer can’t cover it. The rule didn’t apply to checks, online bill payments or recurring debits, such as a monthly cable bill. It also didn’t limit how much banks can charge for the overdraft service.

Banks have responded by marketing overdraft protection aggressively.

Negative account balances can lead to involuntary closures of accounts, which can leave a black mark on a consumer’s record and make it hard to open a new account, the report noted. It found that involuntary closure rates at some banks were over 2.5 times higher for customers who had opted for debit and ATM overdraft coverage.

The overdraft fees are complicated, the report said, varying among banks with regard to the number of overdrafts that can be incurred in a single day, for example. The maximum amount that a bank is willing to advance to a customer as protection can vary widely based on many factors.

The order in which check, debit card and other transactions are posted to an account can affect the number of overdraft fees, and the report found widely varying posting practices among banks.

More in Herald Business Journal

Amazon lists 20 finalists for HQ2, and no, we aren’t on it

Los Angeles was the only West Coast city listed. They seem to like the nation’s capital.

Exotic animals find compassionate care in Bothell (video)

At the Center for Bird and Exotic Animal Medicine, vets treat snakes, hedgehogs and even kangaroos.

Don’t take economic forecasts to the bank — or the casino

Air travel delays could spur a rebirth of passenger rail service.

Emirates orders 20 more Airbus A380 jumbos, saving program

The Dubai carrier also has options to buy 16 more. The program seems safe until 2029.

How do you retrieve an errant Boeing 737 from a muddy slope?

Turkish authorities used cranes to lift a plane that skidded off a runway.

Amanda Strong (left) tries on an Angel of the Winds Arena hat as she and Courtney Brown hand out gift bags after the renaming ceremony Dec. 13 in Everett. The new name replaces the Xfinity name. (Andy Bronson / Her file)
Angel of the Winds to break ground on $60M casino expansion

“We think we’re on the cusp of becoming a major resort.”

House passes bill aimed at lowering gender wage gap

The bill would hinder employers from retaliating against female workers who ask about others’ pay.

Planemaker joins forces with auto-industry supplier Adient

The new venture poses a threat to Zodiac Aerospace and Rockwell Collins

In this Dec. 20, 2017, photo, a clerk reaches to a shelf to pick an item for a customer order at the Amazon Prime warehouse, in New York. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)
Amazon’s potential HQ2 sites leaves many cities disappointed

Associated Press Amazon’s move to whittle its list for a second headquarters… Continue reading

Most Read