What to know about banks and overdraft fees during the pandemic

Some consumer advocates feel banks aren't doing enough to help customers during the COVID-19 economic downturn - particularly when it comes to overdraft fees.

News 12 Staff

Jun 5, 2020, 9:30 PM

Updated 1,419 days ago

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Some consumer advocates feel banks aren't doing enough to help customers during the COVID-19 economic downturn - particularly when it comes to overdraft fees.
Banks were urged to "work with" customers as the U.S. went into lockdown to stop the spread of coronavirus. 
One viewer shared his surprise with News 12 about his recent overdraft saga.
"My account just went over," he told Walt Kane. "And they were not able to waive the overdraft fee … and they were not able to provide any courtesy. The customer should not be responsible for those overdraft fees because this is literally a pandemic. It's affecting the entire world."
Consumer advocates say it's not a surprise what happened to the viewer - even as most of America's big banks promise to be more flexible with account holders.
"We've gotten almost none, almost no commitment from any institutions to stopping overdraft fees during this time or otherwise," says Peter Smith, from the Center for Responsible Lending. "Some banks are advertising that they are going to be lenient around overdraft fees during this COVID crisis ... now when you drill down and you ask them to be more clear about it, they're very hesitant to do so."
A report by Smith found banks collected nearly $12 billion in overdraft fees last year. Sen. Cory Booker (D-New Jersey) its co-sponsoring a bill to temporarily ban those fees, which typically amount to $35, during the pandemic. New York recently did that locally.
Almost every bank charges overdraft fees, but the Center for Responsible Lending says people can save money by picking the right bank. The center advises looking into these practices:
  • Do they charge overdraft fees on ATM or debit transactions?
  • Are there extended fees if you stay overdrawn for several days in a row?
  • Do they re-order transactions, meaning they process the biggest withdrawal first?
  • On the flip side, are there maximum daily fees?
  • Do they offer free transfers from savings to cover overdrafts?
  • And is there a de minimis policy, meaning you can have small overdrafts at no charge?
And if you do overdraft your account, you can sometimes still get the fee dropped. Customers can ask for a waiver - explain your financial situation, inform them if you're a long-term customer and let them know if it's your first overdraft or a rare instance that you overdraft. Ask for a supervisor if you don't get help - and be polite.


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