Tuesday, August 10, 2010

New Rules of Bank Fees Now In Effect

Now that August has come around, there are new rules coming online to benefit consumers. One of my favorites is the overdraft protection rules for debit cards coming into effect on August 15, 2010 for existing bank customers (See FRB: New Overdraft Rules). In the past banks often charged a $34+ fee to consumers who use their card for debit purchases or ATM withdrawals when they do not have enough money in their account to cover the cost of the purchase or withdrawal. The new rules require banks to get consumer's consent (which they should not give) for these "programs."

While the big accomplishment here is disclosure with an opt-in system to benefit consumers using debit cards, as always, consumers can still make financial mistakes that result in fees (see, WSJ, Getting Going: Ferreting Out Those Hidden Fees). For instance, just because you don't opt-in to overdraft protection, that doesn't mean you cannot overdraw your account or be charged a fee for doing so. The new rules apply to debt and ATM transaction, so consumers can still overdraw their accounts and be charged fees for check and automatic bill payments. While this system may be much superior to the previous one, consumers must still mind their balances. The new rules don't eliminate overdrafts completely, leaving some protection for transactions that consumers typically want overdraft protection.

Is this enough? One worry is that banks may push consumers into opting in or consumers may simply not understand (see, USA Today, Bank Overdraft Fees). When opening an account at Chase Bank recently, I was asked to opt-in to overdraft on my debit card. While the clerk was not pushy, I was asked if I was "sure" and did I really understand. Oh, yes, I told them. While I did not opt-in, if a consumer does opt-in the rules may not go far enough. A consumer who opts-in won't get the warning at the counter that their account is low. They will just get the fee, even for the $4 cup of coffee, rather than the ability to choose another form of payment.

All and all, this is all good news for consumers, but banks will take a hit in revenue. Wells Fargo is expecting a $500 million loss in revenue for 2010 as a result of the overdraft rules (see, Wells Fargo Sees $500 Mln). Of course, banks will find other ways to make up the lost revenue. Hopefully, the banks will clearly disclose any new fees to consumers and keep fees manageable While simple fee disclosure for me is important, those with low incomes can be faced with the choice of paying fees or not having a checking account. Some have chosen not to have accounts at all. (see, USA Today, Many Shun Bank Accounts). Consumers opting out of banking completely because the fees are either undisclosed or too high is a lingering problem beyond the reach of the new rules.


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