Fee hikes bounce to debit cards

A chip and pin debit console.

TEXT OF STORY

Kai Ryssdal: There was much fanfare last month when President Obama signed a law to rein in interest-rate charges on credit cards. No more surprise charges or outrageous interest rates, he said. But bank customers may notice the costs of using other plastic are going up. From Washington, Marketplace's John Dimsdale reports banks have started tacking on new fees for customers using debit cards.


JOHN DIMSDALE: Debit-card transactions withdraw money directly from your bank account. Unlike a credit card, debit- card cash isn't borrowed from the bank. Debit-card transactions now outnumber credit-card usage. But Jean Ann Fox at the Consumer Federation of America says the penalties for debit-card overdrafts are going up.

JEAN ANN FOX: Just a few years ago, banks would not permit debit cards purchases to go through if there wasn't sufficient money in your bank account. Now over 80 percent of banks let those transactions go through. So banks are encouraging overdrafts by letting people spend money they don't have so they can turn around and charge them their overdraft fees.

But Nessa Feddis at the American Bankers Association says debit-card overdrafts have become a service for bank customers.

NESSA FEDDIS: In most cases consumers want the transaction paid. They've already eaten the dinner, they've already spent an hour doing the shopping, the cart's filled, kids are crying. They want the transaction to go through. And they're willing to pay something for it.

Most banks charge $35 for overdrafts. And Bank of America just doubled the penalty if it's not paid within five days.

Banks have also been raising fees for foreign-currency transactions and for using another bank's ATM. Greg McBride at the personal finance Web site, Bankrate.com, says the new charges are designed to replace lost profits.

GREG McBRIDE: The tougher restrictions on credit cards that take effect in early 2010, do have the effect of putting credit-card issuers and banks in a position where they're going to have to try to make up revenue in other areas.

The FDIC estimates banks earn nearly $17 billion a year from overdraft charges.

In Washington, I'm John Dimsdale for Marketplace.

About the author

As head of Marketplace’s Washington, D.C. bureau, John Dimsdale provides insightful commentary on the intersection of government and money for the entire Marketplace portfolio.

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