Outrageous Overdraft Protection

Checkbook CBS

With only his small retirement income to live on, Joseph Morrison just manages to scrape by each month. Imagine his surprise when he received his bank statement. He was $400 overdrawn.

"If they would have threatened to cancel my accounts, probably would have woke me up," he told CBS News Correspondent Cynthia Bowers.

He didn't realize he was in such big trouble, he says, because all along the bank continued to let him use his debit card. What he didn't know was that for every $5 and $10 withdrawal, he was being hit with a $30 overdraft fee.

Overdraft or bounce protection is nothing new. For years banks have offered it to their best customers -- those who maintain big balances. When they overdraft, banks cover the checks by essentially loaning customers money with interest.

But now the plans have been expanded by some banks to cover "everyday" customers. If they chose bounce protection, they are hit instead with a flat fee -- generally $25-30 dollars. Which critics say can often amount to astronomical interest rates.

"If you overdraw your account with the typical fee and you pay it back in two weeks, you're paying over 500% interest," said consumer advocate Jeane Anne Fox.

With more than 1,000 banks now offering some sort of bounce protection, the fees generate billions of dollars in revenue each year.

The banking industry acknowledges what it calls a "service," is a moneymaker. But they also say it's a completely voluntary face-saver for customers who may make an occasional mistake.

"It's a win, win," said Diane Casey Landry, president, America's Community Bankers. "It's a win for the consumer because their check is honored and they're saved embarrassment and they save on the overall costs. And, the bank gets to make a fee out of it, so I would characterize that as a win, win.

But just to make sure, federal and state regulators are evaluating the bounce protection.

As for Joe Morrison, he's decided the only way he could win was to opt out of the game. No more debit cards for him.

"I cut mine up," he said. "Plastic surgery."

Even so, his fiscal health is still on the mend, and will take quite some time to recover.
  • Bootie Cosgrove-Mather

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