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Editorial: Score a victory for bank customers

A person demonstrates using a credit card in

A person demonstrates using a credit card in an ATM in Pittsburgh on Jan. 5, 2013. Credit: AP

If you've noticed that bank fees for things like debit card overdrafts and bounced checks are a bit less onerous lately, you're attuned to a good thing that's happened since the financial crisis.

The haul for commercial banks from such fees dropped to $32.5 billion last year from a 2009 peak of $41.1 billion, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Before that, the banks' take had gone up each year for seven decades. Aggrieved consumers can thank regulation and technology for the $8.6 billion that stayed in their accounts rather than being swept into bank coffers.

The key regulatory change was prompted by concern about abusive overdraft fees -- for instance, $35 for a debit card overdraft on the purchase of a $3.50 cup of coffee. In 2010, the Federal Reserve required that customers opt in for overdraft coverage. Before that, banks often automatically enrolled customers unless they opted out. Without overdraft protection, banks reject a purchase if there are insufficient funds instead of allowing it and then socking the customer with a fat fee.

The other significant change was the proliferation of online banking via smartphones and tablets, which made it possible to check account balances on the spot before making purchases.

Sometimes when consumers get loud, they get results.