How to avoid bank overdraft fees

April 25, 2012 3:51:46 PM PDT
Overdraft fees have brought in billions of dollars to banks every year. Last year, those fees totaled more than $30 billion.

This comes after the federal government tried to limit fees, but there are still ways to beat fees. High bank fees, including charging for debit card use, had people taking to the streets last year. Some banks caved on that issue. But Consumer Reports says that hasn't slowed banks down. They're racking up billions of dollars in overdraft fees.

Sharon Drapeau signed up for overdraft protection on her checking account, thinking it would protect her from penalty fees if she overdrew. Instead...

"I got hit with the bank charge for the transfer and the bank charge for the overdraft," she said. "Because I had written a check, I got charged the returned check fee."

Consumer Reports' Greg Daugherty says government rules that went into effect in 2010 were supposed to help curb abusive bank fees, but it hasn't worked out that way.

"Now your bank must get you to sign up for overdraft protection," Daugherty explained. "Then it will cover you if you spend more money than you have in your account."

For instance, if your account is overdrawn, you're still able to use your debit card to buy a cup of coffee, a magazine, or a pack of gum. But for each transaction you can be charged as much as $35 a pop.

Banks are raking in more than $31 billion a year in overdraft fees. Sharon says overdraft protection is a sham.

"Don't say that I'm protecting myself by signing up for the program when there's still going to be this charge," she said.

Consumer Reports says here's how to get some real protection. First, decline your bank's offer to opt in for overdraft protection. If you're already signed up, opt out.

Daugherty said, "You won't be able to use your debit card if you don't have enough money in your account. But be aware, you can still be charged overdraft fees for things like a bounced check and automatic withdrawals if there isn't the money to cover them."

Another good idea?

"We filed alerts," Sharon said. "We have alerts that email us or they'll text us when our account is under a certain amount that we set."

So Sharon's not hit with charges she doesn't expect.

Consumer Reports says another move to minimize fees is to link your savings and checking accounts, so you'll have that much more money to draw upon when your balance gets low. You might get charged a transfer fee, but those are generally much lower than overdraft fees.


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