Lot of people have been getting notifications from their bank or credit union about overdraft protection for debit cards. These notifications sound urgent and tell you that unless you respond that your financial institution will have to turn off overdraft protection on your debit card soon. While it sounds like your bank is trying to take care of you, the opposite is likely true.
Debit Card Overdraft Protection
You may be aware that recent banking reform legislation shut down some of the worst abuses that banks and credit unions used to generate big fee income at the expense of their customers. One of those banking abuses was so-called overdraft protection, which in reality is just a way to charge you big fee.
When you write a check, that check gets sent to your bank. Your bank pays the amount on the check out of funds in your checking account. Overdraft protection turns on when you don’t have enough money in your checking account for the check to clear. Most people assume that if there is not enough money in their account to pay a check they wrote that the check bounces, but not if there is overdraft protection.
The way overdraft protection works is that instead of returning the check you wrote for insufficient funds, your bank pays the check, and gives you a negative checking account balance. If this were free, or even reasonably priced, then you would say thank you and be grateful that your bank takes such good care of you. Unfortunately, this is not the case.
Instead, your bank charges you a fee for using the overdraft protection "service". That fee is often just as high as the fee charged for bouncing a check. The bank gets to collect a big fat fee. The only thing the customer gets out of it is that you don’t have to deal with the merchant you wrote the check to and pay any bounced check fees from them. Reasonable people can disagree on whether or not that is a service worthy of the fee charged for it.
When it comes to debit cards, however, overdraft protection is almost always a scam.
Normally, when you try and use your debit card to pay for something and you do not have enough money in your linked checking account, the transaction is declined. The cashier hands you back the card, and most people use a different card instead. Then, you would know that there is an issue that you need to check into right away. While potentially embarrassing, this situation is free, and there is no financial harm to you.
When your debit card has overdraft protection, then your bank MAY approve the transaction even if you don’t have enough money in your checking account. Of course, for using the overdraft protection service they charge you a $35 overdraft protection fee, and you never have any idea that there was a problem. In fact, you might go on to use your card four or five more times that day, and each time you will be charged another $35 fee. You could rack up over $100 in fees easily thanks to your bank’s "service."
Imagine that you don’t realize that your paycheck didn’t direct deposit on the day you thought it would. You use your debit card to buy lunch for $10, pay for some books $15, and then rent a few movies at Redbox $3. You spent $28 for day, except you actually ended up spending $118 for the day because you are nailed for three overdraft protection fees of $30 each.
In a world where most people have more than one way to pay, it is slimy and underhanded for banks to pretend that they are doing you a favor by charging you $30, $40, or even $50 to approve a transaction on your debit card. What is worse, is that nobody ever explains this to you, AND, they enroll you in this money draining "service" automatically when you sign up. Sure, it is "disclosed" to you, in the 30 pages of fine print you get with your account.
You can see why Congress tried to ban this behavior. Powerful banking lobbyists succeeded in getting the rule watered down, but now you have to "opt-in" to overdraft protection on your debit card. That is why all of those notices have started showing up.
Unless you have no other credit cards or debit cards and never carry cash, DO NOT opt-in to overdraft protection on your debit card. Just use another means of payment if your card is ever declined. You’ll save lots of money.