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Banks and the overdraft racket
Should banks be allowed to automatically charge $34 for overdrawing your account on a $2 cup of coffee?
 
Barack Obama
Barack Obama
(Reuters/Corbis/Kevin Lamarque)

“Banks have grown addicted to the easy billions they reap” from overdraft “scams,” said The New York Times in an editorial, and it’s time for Congress to step in. According to the Center for Responsible Lending, U.S. banks raked in $24 billion in overdraft income alone last year. How? The average fee for overdrawing your account on a purchase “as innocuous as a cup of coffee” is now $34, and unsought automatic “overdraft protection” rackets are the norm.

Banks argue that customers “appreciate not being part of a humiliating scenario” in which their debit card is rejected at the cash register, said the Harrisburg, Pa., Patriot-News in an editorial, and people who “keep track of their funds” don’t incur the fees. We should have the choice to opt out of overdraft plans, but “the American Bankers Association points out, and rightfully so,” that there are now “ample ways” to check your balance before you hit the shops.

It would also be easy for banks to warn you if you’re short on funds, said the Anchorage Daily News in an editorial, like they do before you’re charged a $2 fee at the ATM. But they won’t, because “ignorance (by customers) is bliss (for financial institutions).” So let’s just call this “convenience fee” what it really is: “a loan with an astronomical interest rate.”

That’s a pretty shoddy way for an industry “that has received so much largesse from taxpayers” to repay us, said Daniel Gross in Slate. But banks are raising fees—on all “basic services,” not just overdrafts—because they “feel they have no other choice.” They still “desperately need to build up profits and reserves.” And you’ll probably continue paying these “annoying fees,” because it will be easier than switching banks.

 

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