Many Americans Still In The Dark About Overdraft Fees & Other Bank Practices


While millions of consumers contribute to the $32 billion in overdraft fees collected each year, a new video shows that many checking account holders don’t fully understand the way overdrafts work or how much they spend on the fees each year.

Today, Pew Charitable Trusts unveiled the above video that sheds a bit of light on just how little the average consumer knows about their financial product of choice.

While previous reports and surveys have shown that overdraft fees and unfair practices are of great concern to consumer advocates, Pew officials hope the video propels the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to take action regarding overdraft policies.

The video begins by offering viewers a few facts about checking accounts – nine out of 10 households use the financial product – and their associated overdraft fees – banks often charge excessive fees to cover small transactions.

From there, the video take a man-on-the-street approach to interviewing consumers about their knowledge of overdraft practices.

Of the consumers who were asked how much the typical bank charges for an overdraft fee, only one was able to answer correctly. According to Pew’s research, the average fee is $35, but most consumers interviewed believed the fee was $25.

When it came to bank’s overdraft protection programs, many of the chosen consumers said they were covered by the plans. However, their understanding of how such programs work was a bit skewed.

One consumers said she was automatically enrolled in the plan, but, Pew Trusts reports that consumers must specifically opt-in to the program.

The video goes on to address concerns many advocates have raised about banks’ overdraft practices, including charging consumers high fees for transactions of less than $50 and the tendency to rearrange transactions in a way that makes consumers incur additional overdraft fees.

“I think it’s ridiculous based on the amount of the overdraft,” one man says. “If it’s that minimal the fee should be a percentage of what the transaction is.”

As for rearranged transactions, all of the consumers questioned about the practice said they were unaware of its use.

“That’s upsetting,” one woman says. “I’ll have to pay more attention, I guess.”

If given the option to improve overdraft practices, many consumers told Pew Trusts that they would prefer to have a transaction declined rather than be hit with an expensive fee.

In conclusion of the video, most consumers voiced their opinion that banks should face more oversight when it comes to overdraft practices. Pew says those feelings are in line with a 2014 Pew survey that found three out of four consumers believe that overdrafts should be more closely regulated.

“The video shows people could use more information and feel overdraft fees should be more in line with banks’ actual costs,” Susan Weinstock, director of Pew’s consumer banking project, tells Consumerist. “Both conclusions are consistent with our research. We hope the CFPB will watch and take note.”

Have You Ever Overdrafted? [Pew Charitable Trusts]