Overdraft Fees on the Rise « The Washington Independent
By 35 percent in just two years, according to a report released today by the Center for Responsible Lending, a consumer advocacy group. Those overdraft fees — applied when consumers exceed account balances when making debit card purchases — generated $23.7 billion in 2008, up from $17.5 billion in 2006, CRL found. For context, Americans spent $17.2 billion on cereal last year, the group points out. The number is significant because overdraft fees — which average upwards of $30 apiece, regardless of the amount of the purchase that triggered it — are most likely to hit young adults and low-income folks, who can least afford to pay them.
“These billions of dollars drained from consumers each year represent lost opportunities for families to save for a rainy day or buy necessary goods and services that could help spark the economy,” CRL senior researcher Leslie Parrish said in a statement.
Moebs Services, an Illinois-based financial research firm, estimates the 2009 overdraft revenue will top $38 billion.
The results shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, for several reasons. First, banks, recognizing the profit-churning potential of overdraft fees in recent years, have grown more sophisticated in their methods of triggering them. Some, for example, will reorder debit purchases by amount, rather than chronology, in order to maximize the number of overdraft fees slapped on consumers. Also, the increase in joblessness that’s accompanied the recession means that more bank accounts are hovering near empty. (Of course, it was the banks that were primarily responsible for the economic collapse that caused the recession, so for them now to be hitting affected consumers with additional fees to pad their profit margins only adds insult to injury.)
The trend has caught the eye of some powerful lawmakers, who are hoping this year to pass legislation to protect consumers from runaway overdraft fees. A House bill, sponsored by Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), would prohibit banks from charging the fees unless consumers sign up for the overdraft protection service. It would also prevent banks from reordering purchases in order to maximize the number of overdraft fees.
Senate Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) says he plans to introduce a similar bill shortly.