n 2010, the Federal Reserve barred banks from enrolling customers in overdraft programs without their permission. Under those programs, banks agreed to cover ATM withdrawals and debit-card purchases even when funds were dry, but in return charged customers a fee, leading to a downward spiral of negative account balances, late-night freak-outs, and low self-esteem.
A year ago, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) announced plans to study these programs, in a bid to determine if the new rules are adequately protecting customers. Well, the results are in: Banks are still profiting handsomely from overdraft charges, and a smaller number of customers — those who opt into the programs — are the ones paying.
The problem is that banks are allegedly making it harder for customers to avoid the fees.
CFPB Director Richard Cordray stopped short of calling for a ban of such fees. But he said, "Our findings raise concerns about the number of consumers who are incurring heavy overdraft fees or account closures, and the wide variations across institutions indicate that certain practices and procedures merit further analysis."
"Consumers need to be able to anticipate and avoid unnecessary fees on their checking accounts. But we are concerned that overdraft programs at some banks may be increasing consumer costs," he continued. "What is often marketed as overdraft protection may actually be putting consumers at greater risk of harm."
The report, based on confidential data provided by banks, did not specify the banks in question. Furthermore, it did not say how many banks were surveyed, only that the data represented more than half of all deposit accounts. Here are some of the stats:
Percentage of bank accounts that experienced at least one overdraft or insufficient-funds charge in 2011
Percentage of overdraft fees incurred by "heavy overdrafters," or those tallying more than 10 charges a year
Average overdraft fee paid by bank accounts with one or more overdraft charges in 2011
Percentage of overdraft fees collected as an extra penalty when customers didn't have the funds to bring the account back to zero
Percentage of checking accounts banks involuntarily closed in 2011, usually due to negative balance
Percentage of institutions with assets of $38 billion or more that use overdraft programs
Percentage of banks with assets less than $1 billion that have overdraft programs
Percentage of community banks that offer overdraft programs
Overdraft fees banks earned in 1990
Overdraft fees banks earned in 2012
Average overdraft fee in 1998
Average overdraft fee in 2012
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- Why China's Communist Party is headed for collapse
- How to make perfect fried rice in 6 easy steps
- Why the poor's investment of choice is so alarming
- He said he was leaving. She ignored him.
- Obama doesn't have a manhood problem — but conservatives certainly do
- 31 TV shows to watch in 2014
- Why Antonin Scalia was right to defend a drug dealer
- Why we need a maximum wage
- Why atheism doesn't have the upper hand over religion
- The sexual politics of Game of Thrones just got enormously worse
Subscribe to the Week