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Report: "Hidden Loans" Burn NH Debit Card Users

January 29, 2007


It's a loan program that almost everyone who banks in New Hampshire is enrolled in, even though they may not know it -- that is, until they get a bank statement.

Most banks now automatically enroll customers in "overdraft protection" loan programs for ATM and debit card transactions. However, a new report by the Center for Responsible Lending has found the fees for these programs are higher than standard overdraft protection offered as an option with most checking accounts.

Report author Eric Halperin says ATM and debit card customers typically are enrolled without their knowledge. He feels they ought to be able to "opt out," or stop a transaction, if there's a $35 dollar "fee" attached.

Of course, the high costs make these "automatic loans" very profitable for banks. The banking industry calls the practice a 'customer service;' Halperin is not convinced.

"For the money that you don't have for the purchase, the bank loans you the money and charges you a fee up to $35. So you can buy a $3 cup of coffee and end up paying $38 for it! Consumers should have to decide to be part of programs like these."

His study surveyed bank customers and found only two percent would proceed with an ATM or debit card transaction if they knew they didn't have enough money in their account and would, therefore, be charged an extra fee.

Halperin expects new federal legislation to require banks to get customers' permission to be included in overdraft programs. The full report can be found online, at www.responsiblelending.org.

Deborah Smith/Jamie Folsom, Public News Service - NH