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Overdraft fee rule latest short-term money-maker for banks

Unfortunately, banks still have plenty of time to soak consumers with overdraft fees.

The Federal Reserve recently published a long-expected and much-needed rule that requires banks and credit unions to get consumers' permission before charging overdraft fees for debit card and ATM overdrafts -- sound, old-school financial behavior -- but the final rules won't be effective for the better part of a year.

If the consumer financial market's recent behavior is any indication, following impending regulatory clamp-downs, consumers had better duck and cover their assets.

Once credit card issuers got wind of the Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility and Disclosure Act or "Credit CARD Act of 2009" they began to squeeze consumers so badly with jacked-up interest rates, overdraft fees, slashed credit limits and other questionable tactics, the level of complaints prompted legislative action to speed up effective dates of the CARD Act.

"The only way for consumers to defend themselves against unscrupulous bank practices is to remain vigilant in reviewing all bank statements and disclosures they receive in the mail," said Nancy Osborne, chief operating officer of ERATE, a Santa Clara, CA-based financial information publisher and interest rate tracker.

The overdraft rules, not effective until July 1, 2010, prohibit financial institutions from charging consumers fees for overdrafts caused by automated teller machine (ATM) and debit card transactions, unless a consumer consents, or opts in, to the overdraft service and associated fees for those types of transactions.

Before the consumer opts in, he or she must get a disclosure explaining the financial institution's overdraft services, overdraft fees and the consumer's choices.

The Federal Reserve and others have revealed most consumers don't want automatic enrollment in overdraft services for one-time debit card transactions and ATM withdrawals, but they do want overdraft protection services for important bills, including rent, utility and telephone bill checks.

Akin to payday loans consumers don't ask for, overdraft fees, on checking accounts alone, are the single-largest driver of consumer-fee income for banks, a whopping $38.5 billion is projected for this year -- nearly twice the $20.5 billion snatched in the form of credit card penalties, including late and over-limit fees, according to a USA Today study.

"Consumers must carefully monitor their accounts and avoid causing a triggering event which could lead to the assessment of punitive fees on their account," Osborne said.


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