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A new report has found overdraft fees are more than just a potential nuisance — they’re a $17 billion moneymaker for banks.
“In total, overdraft and [non-sufficient fund] fees cost Americans more than twice what they spend annually on eggs ($7.4 billion), far more than they spend on baby clothes ($9.7 billion), and more than they spend on books, newspapers and magazines combined ($13.1 billion),” the report released this week by the Center for Responsible Lending said.
CRL analyzed banks with more than $1 billion in assets, which were required to publicly report their overdraft and NSF fee revenue for the first time in 2015. In doing so, it found that account holders at those institutions paid more than $17 billion annually in overdraft and NSF fees, which are typically $35.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which contributed to the study, found three-fourths of overdraft and NSF fees are paid by only 8% of account holders, who incur 10 or more fees per year. CRL estimates nearly two million Americans pay 20 or more overdraft fees annually, which translates to $700 or more (not including NSF fees, which drive costs even higher).
For a low-income family earning a median salary around $26,800 annually, $700 is real money; in fact, it’s nearly a third of the average Earned Income Credit payment of $2,400, the report said.
“Ultimately, costly overdraft fee practices push some families out of the banking system altogether,” CRL concluded, as FDIC data indicate approximately 778,800 houses and more than one million adults who once had bank accounts are currently unbanked due to high or unpredictable fees.
The CRL is calling for regulation to make overdraft fees “reasonable” and limited to one per month and six per year. It also wants overdraft programs to receive credit protections, such as allowing account holders to repay what they owe in affordable installments.
The American Bankers Association (ABA), a trade group that represents the financial services industry, said account holders do have the power to turn things around.
“Consumers who choose debit card overdraft protection services receive a consumer-tested, one-page summary of terms, fees and alternatives before opting-in,” Virginia O’Neill, senior vice president of ABA’s center for regulatory compliance, said via email. “They also receive written confirmation, notice when overdraft occurs, and a summary of overdraft fees they’ve incurred highlighted on their monthly bank statements. Those who no longer want access to the service may opt out at any time.”
Avoiding Overdraft Fees
If you’re regularly being hit with bank fees, try getting in the habit of looking at your checking account to ensure that you have enough funds before making purchases. (Spending more than you have could put you in debt; check out how much your debt can cost you over a lifetime with this tool, and see the effects of your spending habits by viewing two of your credit scores for free on Credit.com.) You may be prone to overspending, in which case it’s time to think about reigning in some of your bad habits. You can read up on how to pinch pennies without feeling deprived here.
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