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Maybe banks were up in arms over nothing.

That’s one conclusion from a new study that says about half of all bank customers decided to opt-in for bank overdraft protection, protecting a key source of revenue for banks.

The data comes from Ipsos-Reid, in a survey sponsored by the American Bankers Association that was released Aug. 31.

The survey showed that 46% of 1,010 “randomly selected” U.S. bank customers said they either already have or are planning to opt in on their bank's overdraft protection.

The survey was conducted on the same date (Aug. 15) federal rules required banks to seek permission from their checking account customers to pay for overdraft purchases from a debit card purchase. Banks often charge big fees for the service. A May 2010 study by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. estimates such fees can range from $10 to $38, with a median of $27 charged for each transaction.

But the survey indicates that almost half of bank customers don’t seem to mind paying for overdraft protection, even after Ipsos-Reid spelled out specific scenarios where the overdraft purchase options were laid out in stark terms.

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Here’s how the survey was conducted:

  • Respondents were informed banks can no longer charge a fee for covering overdrafts unless customers tell the bank in advance they wants overdraft protection.
  • Survey respondents were also informed that if they didn’t opt in for protection, their transactions could be denied if their account was overdrawn.
  • Survey respondents were then asked, after the table, if they still wanted overdraft back-up.

And here’s what Ipsos-Reid found:

  • Bank customers, 46% of them, said they did — or will — opt for overdraft coverage.
  • Those who refused to opt in comprised 49% of the respondents.
  • Those who were unsure comprised 5% of the respondents.

"These results show that many bank customers value debit card overdraft protection and are willing to pay for the service," said Nessa Feddis, American Bankers Association vice president and retail banking expert. "They are now in the driver's seat and control the way their accounts are managed."

Are bank customers in the "driver’s seat" when they’re repeatedly tagged for bank overdraft fees of up to 38%? Maybe that’s the $13 trillion banking industry’s spin, but consumer advocates will likely see it another way.

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