Banks raise overdraft fees

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While they're completely avoidable if you act responsibly, I've always thought there was something a little bit mean about overdraft fees: people get charged $15 or more for not having enough money to buy a Twix bar. Doesn't seem quite right, does it?

But it's getting worse: according to the USA Today, Wachovia has been urging its employees not refund overdraft fees with frequency because they "make up a big percentage of our revenue." Bank of America and Washington Mutual have hiked overdraft fees and shifted policies to make them more frequent.

Consumer complaints aside, high and rising overdraft fees are probably a fact of life. They're a large enough chunk of revenue that they effectively subsidize other services like "free checking." A bank that decided to buck the trend and reduce overdraft fees would have to raise other fees -- not a policy that would win over high quality customers who are likely to use the bank for home loans, because people who are overdrawing with frequency are not likely to be valuable customers for anything except overdraft fees. Sad, but true.

Here's what you can do to avoid overdraft fees: consider keeping a back-up credit card that you never use except for emergencies when paying with a debit card would result in an overdraft fee. Then pay the balance as soon as you get your next check. Another alternative is to only pay cash and not even use your debit card at all -- studies have shown that this will help you spend less, so it's probably something you should consider anyway.
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