Compared with some other financial products, checking accounts are relatively hassle-free. One frequent exception to that rule is the overdraft protection fee.
When you withdraw more money than you have in your account, your bank typically charges you an overdraft protection fee. The median overdraft protection fee is almost $30, according to the FDIC, a total that can take a hit out of your already-depleted pocketbook.
But legislation set to go into effect this summer could change the way overdrafts affect you.
Let’s explore some of the ins and outs of overdraft fees:
Opting Into ‘Protection,’ Opting Into Fees
Banks often automatically enroll customers in overdraft protection plans — the plans that cost you about $30 if you happen to spend beyond your limits. According to the FDIC, 75 percent of banks automatically attach overdraft protection to accounts. That will stop for good July 1, when the Federal Reserve’s new rule goes into effect.
The rule mandates that banks must offer you the option to “opt-in” to an overdraft protection plan. If you actively approve of the plan, you run the risk of being charged a fee should you overdraw your account. If you do not opt-in, you won’t be able to spend past the limit of your account, but you won’t be charged an extraneous fee, either. If you try to make a $25 purchase when you have $10 in your account, your card will be denied at either the ATM or the register.
The new law could hit banks’ bottom lines hard. According to a Moebs Services report, banks made more than $38 billion from consumer overdraft fees in 2009.
Banks Changing Behaviors
In light of the coming legislation, banks have already started altering their overdraft policies. Chase Bank and Bank of America have both tightened up their policies on granting customers money past their withdrawal limits, according to a FOX Business report, and Citi already had a policy against approving purchases and withdrawals when they would overdraw an account.
Overdraft fees on existing accounts, unless you choose to opt in, will be banned August 15. The law will affect customers opening new accounts on and after July 1.
The Most Convenient Way to Avoid Overdrafts?
You guessed it. The easiest way to avoid overdrawing your account is to manage your funds responsibly. If you record your ATM withdrawals and online bill pay transactions, keep an eye on your account balance and review your statements on a monthly basis to find positive or negative trends, keeping funds in your account should become much easier.
If you have a savings account at the same bank, inquire about setting up a transfer program. A transfer program charges you a small fee (normally about $5) to take the amount you overdrafted out of your savings account and adding it to the almost-overdrawn account as extra cushion.