One Year Later, Debit Cardholders Still Confused About Overdraft Protection Fees

The Federal Reserve’s implementation of new policies last summer has essentially backfired. It was intended to protect debit card users from unexpected overdraft fees and clarify bank policies. Instead, it seems to be helping banks rake in the money by signing account-holders up for overdraft protection plans. Plus, according to a new study by the Center for Responsible Living, the majority of debit-card holders are still confused about what exactly they’re agreeing to.

The New Rules

The Federal Reserve implemented new policies last year to clarify and protect debit-card users against overdraft fees. With these new rules, banks are required to have account-holders agree to their terms before they can go into effect. Basically, an account-holder either decides to opt in or opt out of a protection plan. By opting into a protection plan, you are guaranteed to pay more in fees and maybe even accumulate a little debt. Who knew that was possible with a debit card?

The new policy is relevant to point-of-sale transactions which are approved by the bank when there are insufficient funds in the person’s account to cover the purchase. Before this new rule, the bank would approve the purchase rather than declining it, costing the average account-holder $35 in overdraft fees. According to Time, 80% of debit cardholders said they would rather their card be declined in this instance to avoid fees.

Isn’t the whole point of a debit card to only spend what you have?

Same Old Confusion

A study recently released by the Center for Responsible Lending found that 33% of cardholders opted for overdraft protection fees. The Center also found that 60% of these account-holders did so in order to avoid fees in the event their debit card was declined, meaning they do not want their debit card to be approved when there are insufficient funds in their account. The study also found that for nearly half of the participants who opted in, getting the bank to quit advertising the overdraft protection through email and other methods was a factor in their decision. Despite the questionable behavior of the banks, consumers still seem to be confused about debit card policies. These overdraft protection plans are only bringing in more revenue for banks, which are set to make $38.5 billion this year, up from $36.5 billion last year.

Debit cardholders who opt into this service which allows them to use their debit card when it would otherwise be declined, are probably better suited for a credit card. With so many credit card offers currently featuring low interest rates and no annual fees, a cardholder could save money on fees even with an outstanding balance rather than continually paying overdraft fees on his/her debit card.

By High Yield Savings Accounts

The founder and editor of with a passion for personal finance and experience in the financial industry.