Overdraft protection is a service banks and credit unions provide to help customers avoid nonsufficient funds (NSF) fees they will incur if they don’t have enough cash in their account to cover a transaction. While some overdraft protection plans are free, others charge fees. In some cases, but not all, getting over overdraft protection at your bank can help you to avoid overdraft fees.
Pay a fee to avoid a fee? You may wonder, why bother? But depending on your situation, overdraft protection has the potential to help if you understand the plan terms.
If you write a check, visit an ATM to withdraw money, pay for a purchase with a debit card or have an automated payment post on your account and you don’t have sufficient funds, your bank could charge you an NSF fee.
If you have overdraft protection, however, your financial institution will automatically complete the transaction through a variety of methods, preventing you from incurring an NSF fee. However, they often charge an overdraft protection fee, which typically is a fixed amount that’s charged per overdraft item.
In 2010, a Federal Reserve-enacted rule regulating overdraft practices banned banks from enrolling customers in overdraft protection automatically. Now banks must allow customers to opt in to overdraft protection when they open an account, and you can opt out at any time.
Banks typically offer three types of overdraft protection. With standard overdraft coverage, the bank covers the amount, generally charging a fee for each overdraft transaction.
You can also link your account to a line of credit. In this scenario, the bank will transfer funds to cover the overdrawn amount and any fees charged. The overdrawn amount is subject to a variable interest rate, and each overdraft might incur a separate fee.
Or you can link your checking account to a savings, money market, credit card or second checking account. With this option, your primary checking account draws funds from the linked account if you’re overdrawn. However, the transfer of funds might result in an overdraft protection fee.
If you opt in to overdraft protection, your financial institution might charge a fee to cover an overdraft, although many cap the number of overdraft fees you can be charged per day. First there is the standard one-time overdraft protection plan, which is typically at least $34 per overdraft. An additional fee might apply if your account remains overdrawn for a certain length of time. The chart below provides information on standard fees for several banks.
|Institution||Overdraft fee (per item)||Maximum fees per day|
|Bank of America||$35||$140|
If you opt for an option other than the standard overdraft plan your bank offers, you may incur the following costs instead of those outlined in the table above:
Some banks may offer special plans to protect you from overdrawing your account. For example, Wells Fargo has an overdraft rewind program that allows you to avoid an overdraft fee from some transactions that leave you with a negative checking account balance, as long as you make a direct deposit to make up the deficit by 9 a.m. the following day. This program is automatically applied to all checking accounts.
The key advantage of overdraft protection is that your transactions aren’t denied. So overdraft protection can give you peace of mind — but for a price. Replacing NSF fees with overdraft protection fees is a poor strategy if you have trouble keeping your checking account balance high enough to cover your expenses.