Friday, November 13, 2009

New Fed consumer protection rules need your help

New Federal Reserve banking overdraft regulations might help many of us avoid big penalties if we use our ATM or debit cards too enthusiastically after July 1.

It's a big deal. About three fourths of the nation's bank routinely sign up customers for automatic overdraft protection, and collect $37 billion in overdraft fees when we trigger it, reports Kiplinger Personal Finance's Joan Goldwasser. The new regulations stop part of that by ending the automatic enrollment and requiring us to sign up if we want that protection. Meantime, here is a rundown of what the Consumer Federation of America found the nation's biggest banks were doing last month.

But take a close look at the details when your bank mails you an explanation of the changes in a few months. There is less there than meets the eye for some of us.

For starters, the new regulations apply only to ATM and debit card transactions. Banks can still charge for honoring overdraft paper checks or covering automatic bill payments if your account drops too low. Plus, the new rules don't put caps on what banks can charge if you do sign up or prevent them from potentially tweaking the system to trigger more fee income, CFA reports.

So the best way to avoid overdraft fees in July is what is still the best way now. Avoid overdrafts. Basic tactics such as having your paycheck deposited directly into your account, keeping a comfortable cushion there and simply keeping track of what you spend aren't hard and go a long way, the American Bankers Association says.

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