The latest news on overdraft fees, overdraft fees and other bank fees from the Center for Responsible Lending.
- SunTrust, M&T Customers Win Court Ruling on Overdraft Fees
Bloomberg 03 Sep 2011
Customers of SunTrust Banks, M&T Bank, and two others are being permitted to use federal courts instead of arbitration to pursue claims that the financial institutions overcharged them on overdraft fees. According to a ruling from U.S. District Judge James Lawrence King, customers with debit cards linked to checking accounts are not required to use arbitration rather than class-action lawsuits. The banks had argued that a U.S. Supreme Court decision in April related to AT&T customers' class-action suit set the precedent on arbitration agreements. But King said the arbitration agreements by the banks are "unconscionable" and cannot be enforced. The litigation involves customers at more than 30 banks that were sued over their high-to-low transaction processing policies, which customers claimed allowed the banks to maximize overdraft fees.
- What Regulators Have Proposed for Overdraft Fees
South Florida Sun-Sentinel 02 Sep 2011
The federal watchdog for national banks and thrifts has drafted updated rules on overdraft charges. The proposals would mandate a grace period of at least one day for a customer to add more money to an account before an overdraft fee is levied; that withdrawals be processed in an order not "solely designed or generally operated" to maximize fees; and that customers opt in for overdraft coverage on checks and wire transfers -- not just for transactions involving automated teller machines and debit card charges.
- Customers Still Avoid Fees, Survey Finds
American Banker 02 Sep 2011
A new study released by the American Bankers Association found that despite claims that free banking is in danger due to new regulations, more than 70 percent of customers are still receiving this service. The online survey, conducted by Ipsos Public Affairs on behalf of the ABA, polled more than 2,000 adults and showed that 71 percent of them reported paying no fees. Another 11 percent said they paid $3 or less in monthly bank fees, while 6 percent said they paid $4 to $6 a month. The findings come at a time when banks are preparing for reduced customer fees due to restrictions on debit interchange. According to research firm Moebs Services, nearly two-thirds of large banks have ended free checking since 2009 while adding fees or changing terms for an estimated 4 million consumer deposit accounts.
- Consumer Groups Say Overdraft Fees Still Too High
South Florida Sun-Sentinel 02 Sep 2011
One year after Congress aggressively went after overdraft fees, consumer advocates say banks are still imposing egregious fees to customers who overspend the cash available in their accounts. The median overdraft fee at the country's 14 largest banks, $35, remains unchanged from 12 months ago, according to a study conducted in June by the Consumer Federation of America. In total, national banks and other lending institutions will collect an estimated $38 billion in overdraft fees this year -- up from $35 billion in 2010 and from $31 billion in 2006, consumer watchdogs say, referencing estimates from economic research firm Moebs Services. Federal bank regulators are shaping new rules on overdraft fees, but many consumer advocates complain that the proposed rules still do not go far enough. For example, many of them would like to see banks blocked from manipulating the order of customer withdrawals from the largest amount to the smallest -- a practice that generates additional overdraft fees.
- Monthly Debit Card Fees Taking Shape
Chattanooga Times Free Press 01 Sep 2011
Big banks are phasing in monthly fees on debit card usage starting in October, while smaller banks are taking a wait-and-see stance before deciding whether to charge customers for bank card purchases. The new fees are designed to compensate for lost revenues stemming from the Durbin Amendment to the federal Dodd-Frank Act. First Tennessee, Regions Bank, SunTrust and Wells Fargo are among the large Tennessee-area banks testing fees ranging from $3 to $6 on certain accounts. "For those accounts with a monthly debit card fee, it will be assessed when at least one point-of-sale transaction is made with that card during a statement cycle," except for ATM withdrawals, says Mel Campbell, media relations manager for Regions Financial Corp. Meanwhile, smaller community banks like Chattanooga-based Cornerstone Community Bank may be able to avoid charging the fees, thanks to an exemption in the Durbin Amendment for small banks with less than $10 billion in assets. "I think what you'll see, at least at this bank, is us keeping things the way they are to try to bring customers to the community banks from the regional banks," says Frank Hughes, president and CEO of Cornerstone Community Bank. However, smaller financial institutions are concerned that eventually they may also have to start charging similar fees. "Nine times out of 10, when they do stuff like this it trickles down," says Blake Strickland, president and CEO at the 92,000-member Tennessee Valley Federal Credit Union. "I fully expect to see some kind of ramification from it."
- Capital One Deal With ING Could Be Slowed by Federal Reserve
Politico 25 Aug 2011
The Federal Reserve has hinted it may slow down a deal allowing Capital One to acquire ING Direct's U.S. operation, which would create the fifth-largest U.S. bank. Opponents say a merger would create a risky "too-big-to-fail" megabank. The Fed's board of governors this week ended public comment on the proposed merger, typically the last step before it approves a major deal, despite objections from activists and a letter from Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), the ranking member of the House Financial Services Committee. Frank and others wanted the board to remove the deal from fast-track approval so the impact on consumers, and allegations that Capital One has a poor track record in low-income and working-class communities, could be more thoroughly examined. In an unusual step, however, the board indicated it would allow more comment on the matter, potentially giving activists more time to present their case. A Federal Reserve spokeswoman said earlier this week that no decision on the merger was imminent.
- City Holding Settles Overdraft Suit
American Banker 25 Aug 2011
Charleston, W.Va.-based City Holding Co. announced that it has entered into an agreement to pay $3 million to settle a class-action lawsuit that accuses it of improperly assessing overdraft fees. Additionally, the firm said in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing that it will forgive $2.5 million in unpaid overdraft fees. Depositors brought the litigation against the company in July 2010, and Judge Jennifer Bailey of the Kanawha County Circuit Court recently approved the settlement.
- Debit Rewards Are Still Available—in New Form
Associated Press 24 Aug 2011
Debit card rewards are undergoing a transformation. Several major banks in the past year ended or scaled back their debit rewards programs. To compensate, a few banks are teaming up with retailers to offer revamped programs that reward customers for spending at specific stores. The migration away from traditional rewards programs is a response to the changing business environment. Starting in October, a regulation will cap the fees banks can collect from merchants whenever customers swipe their debit cards. Under the new reward programs, retailers pay the banks a fee or share a portion of the profits whenever customers act on an offer, which is expected to help banks offset the loss in revenue from swipe fees. Financial research firm Aite Group estimates that banks will reap $1.7 billion a year in revenue from these merchant-funded rewards by 2015. Aite found that about 30 percent of customers enrolled in merchant-funded programs end up redeeming at least one offer, a figure that could rise significantly once more retailers join the programs and the offers become more customized.
- Miami Has the Nation's Highest Overdraft Fees
Miami New Times 23 Aug 2011
More than one in four Americans with checking accounts -- 26 percent -- overdraw their available funds at least 10 times a year, but Miamians are paying steeper overdraft fees than anywhere else in the country. Moebs $ervices collected information from 1,240 banks, 1,292 credit unions, and 832 national retailers and found that the average overdraft fee varies from city to city. Miami, Fla. has America's highest median fee for overdrafts under $100, at $30.95. Across the country, in San Francisco, overdrafters are paying only $22.50 in fees. "Obviously the institutions in the Bay Area of San Francisco recognize the consumer need for a safety net, while in Miami an overdraft is still a penalty," said Michael Moebs of Moebs $ervices.
- Big Banks Offer Payday Loans by Another Name
CBS News 23 Aug 2011
A number of the country's biggest banks may begin offering payday loans under a different name. While a few large banks already allow customers to borrow against their paychecks for a fee, there are signs that the option could soon become more widely available. Banks say the short-term loans are meant for emergencies, but consumer advocates claim the direct deposit loans carry the same predatory traits as payday loans. Consumer groups claim the bank emergency loans also have fees that amount to triple-digit interest rates, are characterized by short repayment periods, and have the potential to trap borrowers in a cycle of debt. But banks claim the direct deposit loans provide safeguards to prevent over-reliance. Wells Fargo offers the short-term loans and allows customers to borrow up to half of their direct deposit amount or $500, whichever is lower. However, its interest rates still add up to 261 percent, higher than any traditional loan. Some consumer advocates claim that even half the amount of borrower's next direct deposit can be a significant setback and is likely to make him or her need another loan to cover living expenses in the near future. A recent study by the Center for Responsible Lending found that direct deposit loan users relied on the short-term loans for almost six months of the year. "When you're allowed to be indebted for six billing cycles in a row, that's not a short-term loan," says CRL's Uriah King. "They call them short-term loans, but that's just not how they're used. And banks know that."
- UVA Researcher Looks at Banks' Effects on Neighborhoods
National Public Radio 19 Aug 2011
It is not surprising that banks are drawn to wealthy areas; but as it happens, they may also help make communities safer and better off. To find out more about that relationship, a University of Virginia researcher has been studying what transpires when banks move out of poor areas and why credit unions and banks can pay large neighborhood dividends. Greg Fairchild, director of the University of Virginia's Taylor Murphy Center, analyzed communities where banks have closed branches over the past few decades as a result of consolidation. "The areas outside of Northern Virginia, outside of Richmond, outside of general affluence were where the areas where bank branches were likely to decline," he determined. And when the banks vacated, he said, predators moved in. "These would be check cashers, payday lenders, automobile loan companies, title loan companies," he specified. Such businesses frequently charged very steep rates, up to 300 percent on loans, and predatory lenders were not the only ones who swooped in on bankless consumers. Moreover, the dearth of banking services made these workers vulnerable to violent crime -- robbery especially -- after paydays, Fairchild says. But when communities had banks, crime rates decreased, and that helped drive up property values.
- US Banks Begin Charging Monthly Debit-Card Fees
Dow Jones Newswires 17 Aug 2011
Wells Fargo is joining a growing number of banks that are introducing or testing a monthly fee for debit cards, casting around for revenue lost to debit-card regulatory restrictions. Wells Fargo will charge a $3 fee for debit and ATM cards as of Oct. 14 in several states if such cards are used for purchases (but not for ATM usage). The bank says it is a pilot program, and it will monitor how people respond. JPMorgan Chase has been testing a fee in a small market in Wisconsin since February. Other banks, such as Regions Financial and SunTrust Banks, decided recently that debit cards for some of their checking-account customers will carry a $4 and $5 monthly fee, respectively. Like Wells Fargo, Regions says it will charge the fee only if the card is used for purchases. TCF Financial is mulling monthly debit-card fees for customers as well as charging customers who use their cards more than a certain number of times, a spokesman says. "Every bank around I think will ultimately end up with some type of fee," he says. "We are in the decision phase."
- Debit Overdraft Fees, While Voluntary, Are Still Steep
New York Times 16 Aug 2011
A review by the Consumer Federation of America finds that even though banks now must get permission from their customers before charging overdraft fees on debit card purchases, the fees they charge are still high -- and some big banks have increased the maximum number of overdraft fees customers can run up each day. The typical overdraft fee at 14 large banks in the year since the Federal Reserve required banks to have customers "opt in" to debit overdraft protection is still $35, with some charging as much as $37 per incident. That far exceeds the typical debit card overdraft of $20, the report notes. While the Federal Reserve now requires customers to actively choose the debit overdraft option, they can always change their minds and "opt out" if they are paying too many fees. The federation would prefer that regulators require that banks simply deny debit transactions if an account lacks the funds to cover a purchase or withdrawal. Citibank has always followed that policy for debit cards and ATM transactions, the report notes, and HSBC does now as well. Bank of America does not permit debit card overdrafts for single purchases, the report says, but does allow consumers to overdraw at the ATM -- at a cost of $35 per transaction -- with customer approval each time, at the point of transaction.
- Don't Forget About the Under-Banked Consumer
The Hill 10 Aug 2011
Drew Edwards, CEO and founder of Chexar Networks, Inc., says in this blog posting that banks historically have been unwilling to change their product offerings to meet the legitimate needs of the underbanked -- a massive consumer group -- by adding services such as check cashing, money transfers, walk-up bill payments, and prepaid Visa/MasterCard debit cards. Now, banks are growing more and more focused on redefining their product set to meet the needs of these consumers by offering them the services they are purchasing today at the corner check casher or store. This change in mentality has been driven by recent legislative changes in Washington that will significantly lower the fee income these banks generate from deposit accounts, debit cards, and credit cards. Forced to re-examine their fee income models, banks have spent the past year performing internal analysis that has helped them to realize that as much as 25 percent of their current deposit account holders are actually going outside the bank to procure these services.
- The $169 Billion Hidden Market: People Without Banks
Strategy+Business 05 Aug 2011
According to FDIC data, an estimated $169 billion in income never flows through a bank or credit union. For years, banks have experimented with winning over "bottom of the pyramid" consumers in the U.S., and many have concluded that the effort was too risky and not lucrative enough. However, researchers from the University of Virginia Darden School of Business spent a year studying the issue and conclude that some different approaches could prove more successful in attracting deposits from the millions of households that have no relationship with a bank or credit union. The rapidly growing Latino population is particularly underserved, the researchers say. Several factors make the Latino population particularly attractive. Many Latino households feature more than one adult generating income, and the group's workforce participation is high. While some unbanked Latinos are undocumented aliens who would have trouble opening an account without a Social Security number, many others are just put off by deposit requirements and language barriers, and turn instead to check-cashing stores and payday lenders that cost more to use. Banks and credit unions could hire more employees who speak Spanish, educate staff members on cultural issues, and help customers with paperwork. Banks could also offer incentives to employers to bring staff members to the bank, or hold "sign-up" days in workplaces during which the benefits of banking — especially the absence of check-cashing fees — are promoted. Finally, the researchers argue that bank managers should get out the message that bringing large numbers of unbanked households into the system lowers the risk of crime. Because unbanked consumers carry cash or keep it at home, they are often the victims of violent robberies.
- Overdraft Fees Remain Steep at Largest Banks
ABCNews.com 04 Aug 2011
According to a new survey by the Consumer Federation of America (CFA), the country's banking heavyweights are still levying high overdraft charges. The research found that the median overdraft fee remains at $35, with some banks charging as much as $37 per transaction, and that two-thirds of banks still pile on fees if customers do not bring their accounts back in line within a certain amount of time. For example, JPMorgan Chase charges an "extended overdraft" fee of $15 after each five-day period that an account remains in the negative. CFA's survey results come a year after new regulation took effect requiring banks to obtain approval before signing customers up for overdraft programs. However, the rule does not require banks to limit how much they charge on the fees, and there is no cap on the number of times a bank can penalize customers for a single violation. The survey found that banks still allow for several overdraft fees to be charged in one day, as well. The findings were based on overdraft polices at 14 of the country's biggest banks as of June.
- ING Buyout Worries Fair-Lending Advocates
Delaware Online 02 Aug 2011
Consumer advocates are voicing concern over Capital One's buyout of ING Direct USA. The National Community Reinvestment Coalition (NCRC) has asked the Federal Reserve to hold public hearings on the matter, claiming the acquisition could set the country up for more economic turmoil. If the merger does goes through, Capital One would become the country's fifth-largest bank. "Should a systemically important bank be allowed to become bigger without a clear case that it will benefit society? The answer is emphatically no," according to NCRC President and Chief Executive John Taylor. The organization has filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, claiming the bank is violating fair-lending laws.
- Free Student Checking May Come at a Price
USA Today 01 Aug 2011
Many financial institutions offer "free" student checking accounts; however, fees associated with some of those accounts -- for ATM usage, overdrafts, and other services -- can eat into the already strained finances of a cash-strapped college student. Fortunately, those costs are avoidable. Many large banks and credit unions offer student checking accounts, which typically have low minimum-deposit requirements and no monthly fees, as long as accountholders meet certain conditions. Financial institutions are not doing this out of the kindness of their hearts, however, says Richard Barrington, personal finance expert for MoneyRates.com. They assume college students will not stay poor forever and hope they will continue the banking relationship once they begin making money. Many student checking accounts can be opened for less than $25, but the ongoing minimum requirements for free checking are important, as well. Students often run their accounts "right down to the edge," Barrington says. One way to avoid ATM withdrawal fees on "free" student checking accounts is by opening an account at a nationwide bank. This is especially important when attending a college far from home. "You want to get an idea of what the bank's footprint is, so you're able to continue to use your own bank's ATM while you're at a college and while you're at home," Barrington says. "Fees from another bank's ATM are pretty steep." Paying an average of $30 each time the account is overdrawn is another way to lose money, and Barrington says that students should track their spending online or sign up for automatic text alerts when their funds fall below a certain threshold rather than enroll in an overdraft protection program.
- Union Bank of California's Debit Card Overdraft Lawsuit
Business Insider 01 Aug 2011
San Francisco-based Union Bank is the latest big financial institution to face litigation over its overdraft policies, which, according to a plaintiff's lawyer, generated $18 million year in revenue by manipulating the order in which customers' transactions were processed. The case, which has been granted class-action status, argues that the bank posted checking account withdrawals not in the order in which they occurred, but rather in a sequence that allowed it to maximize overdraft charges against the customer. To illustrate, a woman with $50 in her account who then makes a $5, $10, and $110 purchase -- in that order -- throughout the course of a day would overdraw her account only on the final transaction, triggering a single fee of about $35. However, processed from largest transaction to the smallest, that same customer would overdraw three times, incurring more than $100 in fees and possibly denting her credit score. Today's bank customers must opt in to overdraft programs, instead of being automatically signed up for them; and nearly one in three do. However, consumer activists fret that that these spenders are doing so against their best interests -- often as a result of aggressive marketing strategies employed by banks -- and for unjustified reasons, such as being afraid of receiving a fine or simply wanting banks to stop pushing the issue. "What really matters is who is opting in," says Leslie Parrish of the Center for Responsible Lending. "Is it that very profitable group of customers that overdraw their account frequently? Unfortunately, those are the most financially vulnerable customers."
- Do You Bank Online? You Probably Pay More for the Convenience Than You Think
Time 01 Aug 2011
For tech-savvy consumers, online banking and other tools are a huge leap forward in convenience, freeing users from hassles like driving to an ATM and sending checks through the mail. But banks get even more out of this arrangement than their customers do, allowing them to retain their customer base in the future even as they hike fees and offer fewer traditional perks. According to the financial services technology company Fiserv, about half of all customers who pay bills online say they are less likely to switch financial institutions as a result. "The likelihood of attrition goes way down the deeper a customer gets into online services," explains Geoff Knapp, vice president of online banking and consumer insights at Fiserv. "There's clearly a hassle factor in that once you get that deep, the level of ire you have to have to go through the whole process and unwind is significant." To some degree, this loyalty is deserved. Online banking customers report higher levels of satisfaction with their financial institution. The problem is that this loyalty seems to make customers more complacent about fees and less willing to shop around. Knapp says banks are seeking alternate sources of revenue after financial regulation curtailed credit card and overdraft charges. Charging for new digital services like the ability to pay another person directly using one's smartphone could be a strategic way for banks to recoup some of those losses.