Bank fees and the $38 latte: Back with a vengeance

A new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau report says opting into your bank’s overdraft protection could leave you paying higher fees and make your account more likely to be shut down. Overdraft fees came under fire during the financial crisis, leading to new banking rules that took effect in 2010. But despite new regulations, many consumers are still getting whacked.

“We can see fees as high as $35, even for a $2, $3 cup of coffee,” says Tom Feltner, director of financial services at Consumer Federation of America.

That’s right, the $38 latte lives. Like a slasher movie villain that just won’t die, it still haunts our pocketbooks. It’s a situation that came up over and over in the debate on overdraft fees: A caffeine-starved consumer hands over his debit card to the barista, not knowing his account only has a dollar left. Later, the bank nails him with a hefty overdraft fee, raising the cost of the $3 latte to $38.

People may have thought this villain was vanquished in 2010, when new banking rules went into effect. Not quite. Banks can still charge the fees. They just have to get clients to opt-in.

“What is marketed as overdraft protection can in some instances put consumers at greater risk of harm,” says CFPB director Rich Cordray.

The CFPB study found fees and policies can vary widely among banks, meaning some consumers end up paying way more. The findings underscore the importance of shopping around, reading fine print and keeping track of account balances. Or else, that $38 latte will keep terrorizing bank accounts.

Mark Garrison: Like a slasher movie villain, an old banking boogieman just won’t die. Tom Feltner is with Consumer Federation of America.

Tom Feltner: We can see fees as high as $35, even for a $2-3 cup of coffee.

That’s right, the $38 latte lives, and still haunts our pocketbooks. You hand over your card to the barista, not knowing your account only has a dollar left. Later, the bank nails you with a hefty overdraft fee. You may have thought this villain was vanquished in 2010, when new banking rules went into effect. Not quite. Banks can still charge the fees. They just have to get you to opt-in.

Rich Cordray: What is marketed as overdraft protection can in some instances put consumers at greater risk of harm.

CFPB director Rich Cordray says fees and policies vary widely among banks, meaning some consumers end up paying way more. So shop around, read the fine print and keep track of your balance. Or else, that $38 latte will terrorize your bank account. In New York, I'm Mark Garrison, for Marketplace.

About the author

Mark Garrison is a reporter and substitute host for Marketplace, based in New York.

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