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NEW YORK ( -- Checking-account overdraft fee restrictions and a prohibition on banks automatically adding customers to overdraft protection programs arrived in July 2010 from the Federal Reserve. This wasn't a ban on overdraft protection, but customers must opt in if they want the service -- otherwise, purchases are declined if customers don't have the necessary funds in their account.

Overdraft fees were a big source of revenue for banks, and the cause of major anxiety for consumers. Despite regulations, overdraft fees can still be a painful penalty that can multiply if you choose to have the protection. The average overdraft fee is still $35 and can be triggered every time you overdraw from your account, no matter how small the purchase.

A surveyed of 14 banks showed all except HSBC set a limit on the number of overdraft fees that can be charged in a single day.

The Consumer Federation of America surveyed the websites of the 14 largest banks to look into their overdraft fees and practices and processing order for payments from accounts. Here are some of the findings from the June



  • The median overdraft fee is $35 and initial fees range from $33 to $37 -- unchanged from CFA's survey last year.
  • Two-thirds of banks charge a second or "sustained" overdraft fee, structured either as a flat fee or a per-day fee, also unchanged from last year's survey. For example, SunTrust (STI) - Get SunTrust Banks, Inc. Report charges $36 on the seventh day following an overdraft and JPMorgan Chase (JPM) - Get JP Morgan Chase & Co. Report adds $15 after each five-day period an overdraft remains unpaid.
  • More than 70% of banks set a minimum to trigger overdraft fees, such as $5 total overdrawn in a day before fees are charged. U.S. Bank (USB) - Get U.S. Bancorp Report sets the highest threshold at $10, while Bank of America (BAC) - Get Bank of America Corporation Report eliminated the threshold it set last year.
  • All of the surveyed banks except HSBC (HBC) set a limit on the number of overdraft fees that can be charged in a single day, ranging from three at JPMorgan Chase to 10 per day at Fifth Third Bank (FITB) - Get Fifth Third Bancorp Report.
  • The order in which banks pay transactions has a big impact on the number of overdraft fees customers can be charged. Last year, almost all of the largest banks processed payments largest to smallest or reserved the right to do so, maximizing overdraft fee revenue. Since mid-2010, several banks changed the order in which payments are made from checking accounts, a result of litigation and voluntary changes.

In late July,


(C) - Get Citigroup Inc. Report

started paying checks smallest to largest and will make that change for automated clearing house transactions (such as direct deposit of an employer paycheck) in October. Fifth Third Bank posts ATM and debit point-of-sale transactions in the order they happen before posting checks and ACH transactions largest to smallest.

Wells Fargo

(WFC) - Get Wells Fargo & Company Report

processes ATM, debit card and other time-stamped transactions in the order received or smallest to largest while paying checks and ACH transactions largest to smallest.

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Bill Hardekopf is chief executive of

, which compares and rates more than 1,000 credit cards. He is the co-author of "The Credit Card Guidebook."