Banks Cling To Overdraft Fees Because They Need Them To Survive

Banks now make more on debit card overdraft fees than credit card penalties—they’ll rake in about $27 billion in 2009 alone, according to the New York Times. They obviously have zero incentive to curb the practice. In fact, one economist told the paper that “45 percent of the nation’s banks and credit unions collect more from overdraft services than they make in profits.”

Some experts warn that a sharp reduction in overdraft fees could put weakened financial institutions out of business.

Michael Moebs, an economist who advises banks and credit unions, said Ms. Maloney’s legislation would effectively kill overdraft services, causing an estimated 1,000 banks and 2,000 credit unions to fold within two years. That is because 45 percent of the nation’s banks and credit unions collect more from overdraft services than they make in profits, he said.

“Will they be able to replace it with another fee?” Mr. Moebs said. “Not immediately and not soon enough.”

The funny thing about overdraft fees is that since they’re not covered by the Truth in Lending Act, banks don’t have to disclose their true cost to customers, or ask permission to sign them up:

According to the F.D.I.C. study, a $27 overdraft fee that a customer repays in two weeks on a $20 debit purchase would incur an annual percentage rate of 3,520 percent. By contrast, penalty interest rates on credit cards generally run about 30 percent.

“People would be shocked at how brutally high those fees are relative to the costs of a credit card,” said Edmund Mierzwinski, the consumer program director for the United States Public Interest Research Group.

People may also be shocked by how strongly the banking industry will fight back against any overdraft legislation, the article implies, because many financial institutions will be fighting for their ability to remain in business.

“Overspending on Debit Cards Is a Boon for Banks” [New York Times] (Thanks to Steve!)
(Photo: Ciaran McGuiggan)