Q&A: Taking a Stand Against Bank Opt-In Offers

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Q: I still haven’t decided whether to opt in or out on overdraft coverage on my checking account. I know it’s down to the last minute, but what are key factors? I’m getting a ton of notices from my bank, so I just want to make the right decision, and get it out of the way.

— A. Piedo, Newark, N.J.

A: We’ll get to the question of whether to opt in or out, but the fact that you’re getting so much mail on the issue is probably intentional.

Banks do a great deal of market research, and try to identify candidates for overdraft protection who may generate some hefty fees.

According to a recent study from Action Marketing, 63% of bank overdraft users (i.e. people who have used overdraft protection services in the past) want the protection, compared to the 57% who don’t.

Action also says that only 28% of bank customers are “absolutely certain” they understand their bank’s overdraft protection.

Banks see a big opportunity to keep customers in their fee-rich programs, so they’ll bug you and steer you toward opting in, as much as they possibly can.

But here’s the thing: Banks are also getting savvy about identifying their best prospects. Acton Marketing says the bank consumer most likely to overdraw is a white woman in her 30s or 40s who doesn’t own a home and earns roughly $50,000 of income.

That’s rather precise, but also reflects just how well the banks are figuring out which opt-in chickens to pluck.

Consider this notice from Chase (Stock Quote: JPM):

“Your debit card may not work the same way anymore, even if you just made a deposit. Unless we hear from you,” the message, emblazoned in large red type, warns. “If you don’t contact us, your everyday debit card transactions that overdraw your account will not be authorized after August 15, 2010 — even in an emergency.”

“Even in an emergency” is underlined for maximum effect. As far as your decision goes, arm yourself with the facts. You already know the deadline to opt-in or out is Aug. 15. If you opt in, purchases you make using insufficient overdraft funds will be honored by your bank but the bank will slap you with an average fee of roughly $27. Banks make bank on overdraft fees: Nearly $20 billion in 2009, according to Moebs Services.

Before you make your choice, also know your options. The Federal Reserve does a great job of laying out the “pros-and-cons” of your bank overdraft decision.

BankingMyWay offers a great menu of articles like Should You Opt for Overdraft Protection? and Fed: Banks Need Consent on Overdraft Fees to lay out the bank overdraft issue.

Take your time, do your research, then make the decision that benefits you financially — not your bank.

—For the best rates on loans, bank accounts and credit cards, enter your ZIP code at BankingMyWay.com.

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