Troubleshooter: Overdraft fees

June 30, 2010 4:41:37 PM PDT
Overdraft fees can put your checking account deep into the red. But starting July 1, banks are no longer allowed to automatically charge overdraft fees under new consumer protection laws.

"You have to make that decision known to the bank that you want that service available," explained Paul Stock with the North Carolina Banker's Association.

You decide whether you want to subject your account to overdraft fees. The choice is simple: do nothing and your debit card transactions will be declined at the register if there is not enough money in your account. Or, if you want to be subject to overdraft fees, contact your bank and opt in to its overdraft protection. If you opt in, all transactions will be approved, but you will be charged a $35 overdraft fee per transaction when your balance falls below zero.

"There may be people who like this as an emergency measure," said Stock.

Stock said while the new laws are meant to protect consumers, he predicts they will also cost consumers money. He explained banks will be losing revenue without the overdraft fees and may no longer offer free checking or other free services in the future.

"I think banks will looking at how they package products and price them and there will definitely be fees for things that have not had fees in the past, and other fees will increase," he said.

The new law takes effect for new banking customers on July 1 and August 15 for existing customers.

Right now, it just involves debit card transactions; it does not include check writing. It's up to banks if they want to offer overdraft protection. Bank of America - for example - is not participating and has ended overdraft fees all together when it comes to debit card transactions.

If you haven't already, bank customers will be getting information in the mail about the change. Experts say read it carefully and decide what is best for you.

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