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Panel considers new rules on overdrafts

A customer uses an ATM inside the Bank of America building in Chicago.

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KAI RYSSDAL: Here's a story that might sound familiar: Your bank account is running low, but still you make a couple of small purchases using your debit card. Next thing you know, you're slapped with an overdraft charge for each one of them.

The House Financial Services Committee is set to consider a bill that would force banks to let you opt out of overdraft programs -- and it would oblige banks to warn you if you're heading into the red with those ATM transaction. Jeremy Hobson reports from Washington.


JEREMY HOBSON: The Center for Responsible Lending says consumers are hit with $17.5 billion in fees every year for overdrawing their checking accounts. And the Center's Research Director Ellen Schloemer says young adults are hit the hardest.

ELLEN SCHLOEMER: They've been dubbed "Generation Plastic" and they rely a lot on credit and debit cards.

Schloemer says 18- to 24-year-olds pay more than $3 in fees for every dollar they borrow. And now Congress is considering legislation to change the rules for overdraft fees. House Democrat Carolyn Maloney of New York is the bill's chief sponsor:

CAROLYN MALONEY: And what my bill does is basically provides information to consumers so they can make a choice of whether or not they would like this service.

Right now, banks can automatically enroll customers in overdraft protection programs. The banks cover consumers who go into the red on their accounts -- but then hit them with a fee. Maloney's legislation would allow customers to opt out of overdraft protection programs. And if they don't, they'd get a warning before being charged a fee for overdrawing at an ATM.

MALONEY: It's basic information. We have the technology -- let consumers know.

Not everyone agrees. Nessa Feddis with the American Banker's Association says banks don't have the technology to make the proposed changes. And she claims consumers like the convenience of automatic overdraft protection on their debit cards.

NESSA FEDDIS: I would expect that at a point of sale, where you've already bagged the groceries or you've already consumed the meal, the customer wants the bank to pay the transaction.

There's been intense lobbying from both sides today, ahead of tomorrow's expected action on the bill. In Washington, I'm Jeremy Hobson for Marketplace.

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