Over the past year, there has been a great deal of scrutiny surrounding overdraft privilege programs. Many news articles focus on the potential negative aspects of overdraft privilege programs. They make the generalization that users of these programs are not sufficiently educated on what usage truly means and that users are typically lower-income.
A 2019 survey from Fiserv shows that 91% of consumers report that they are familiar with their financial institution’s overdraft policy. Strunk has historically stated that clear communication with consumers regarding key elements of the financial institution’s overdraft privilege program is not only important from a compliance perspective, it will also improve program performance. This allows consumers to be more familiar with the program features and limits.
A research paper published by The American Bankers Association provides statistics that show the inconsistencies in data that most articles use characterizing heavy overdraft users as lower-income consumers. The paper states that lower-income households (<$24,000 annual deposits) averaged 10 items paid into overdraft annually vs 18 items for consumers in the highest income level (>$60,000 annual deposits). Lower-income account holders receive more fee waivers and refunds than higher-income consumers and paid lower effective average overdraft charges. Either way, this study shows that consumers of all income categories utilize overdraft programs.
Another argument commonly made in regards to overdraft programs is that consumers find the fees unfair. A common example given that usually describes an overdraft activity is a consumer might buy a $2 cup of coffee and get hit with a $35 fee. In reality, the average size of a purchase that triggers an overdraft fee has nearly quadrupled from $50 to almost $200 in recent years. It is simply not accurate that consumers are getting charged for small purchases. Additionally, a Morning Consult study found that about half of Americans think overdraft fees are fair.
A study by Curinos research found that more than 60% of overdrafts come from consumers who intend to use the service. Likewise, more than 80% of overdraft transactions come from consumers who opted-in to debit card overdraft transactions (Regulation E) with the clear intention of using it to cover their payments. Furthermore, two-thirds of consumers indicate that, while overdraft can be expensive, they don’t want to see reductions in their access to the service or limits. This indicates that consumers understand that if they overdraw their account, having the financial institution pay the overdraft item for them and charge them a fee is a greater benefit to them than returning that item and still charging the consumer a fee. This prevents the consumer from having to pay additional fees to the retailer and potential re-presentment fees.
Less than .15% of complaints to the CFPB were related to overdraft privilege in 2020. Overdraft privilege programs give consumers services that they need and want while also giving them options, which is best for all consumers.