Opting for overdrafts means higher fees

A report by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau A report by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau released Tuesday says it's hard for consumers to anticipate and avoid overdraft charges. It found the cost for "opting in" for overdraft coverage range from nearly $300 a year to about half that. Photo Credit: iStock

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A federal agency said Tuesday consumers who opt for overdraft coverage on their checking accounts pay higher fees and are more likely to have their accounts closed than those who decline it.

A report by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau released Tuesday says it's hard for consumers to anticipate and avoid overdraft charges.

It found the cost for "opting in" for overdraft coverage varies from one bank to the next. Such fees range from nearly $300 a year to about half that.

The agency has been investigating overdraft fees, which are a major source of banks' revenue. The agency has said new rules could follow.

The Consumer Bankers Association, which represents large U.S. banks and regional banks, urged the federal agency against adopting any policy that it said could push consumers toward financial firms outside the banking industry which are less strictly regulated by the government and offer costlier alternatives.

Banks charge overdraft fees when customers try to spend more money than they have in an account. Banks will allow the transaction and then charge the customer a penalty of as much as $35.

Consumer advocates say overdraft fees hurt the people who can least afford them because poorer customers are more likely to drain their checking accounts to near zero balances.

In 2010, the Federal Reserve barred banks from automatically enrolling customers in so-called overdraft protection programs but didn't limit how much banks can charge for the overdraft service.

Banks responded by marketing overdraft protections aggressively.

The report found involuntary closure rates at some banks were over 2.5 times higher for customers who had opted for overdraft coverage.

The order in which check, debit card and other transactions are posted to an account can affect the number of overdraft fees, and the report found widely varying posting practices among banks.

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