Dear banks: I have a suggestion...

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Dear banks:

I have a suggestion. I'm hoping you'll toss my idea around, and hopefully not toss it out . Let me help you help us.

In the last two weeks, as you know, a lot of you have been announcing strategies to minimize overdraft fees in the event that your customers accidentally spend more than they have. Bank of America, U.S. Bank, Chase and many more -- you've all been so nice about saying you'll cut us some slack if we go into overdraft by $5 or even $10, and limiting the damage to four overdraft fees.

It's something that should never happen, of course, but it's something that happens quite a bit to Americans these days -- as debit cards are used more frequently than ever, and surely, people not having access to credit and losing their jobs have had some affect as well. As the oft-quoted number goes, Americans will spend at least $38.5 billion in overdraft fees this year.



Anyway, I've noticed as a lot of banks have been announcing these changes, spokespeople are making pains to tell us how much they care and want us to manage our deposits better. For instance, when BB&T announced its news, a senior executive vice president said, "The changes we're announcing today, in addition to tools and services we already provide, will help our clients better manage their deposit accounts."

And, as you know, Wells Fargo, your own spokeswoman remarked in their press release, "We want to deliver the best banking experience we can and believe these changes, in addition to the tools we already provide, will help our customers minimize overdraft fees."

I really appreciate all of the concern, and that's why I have an idea that might help matters even more. Now, I only have one bank account with all of you banks out there, or two if we include credit unions, and so for all I know, some of you folks already do this, and if so, good for you.

But the big bank I belong to, which is one of the nation's largest, they have a free bill pay service. It's very handy, and I appreciate it, but whenever I pay a bill through this service -- just as I did a few minutes ago before writing this -- I've noticed that you don't automatically deduct the amount of money until it's actually paid. In my case, it's Oct. 2, as I write this, and my $60 payment (life insurance, if you must know) won't be paid until Oct. 5.

Wouldn't it be nice, though, if you did deduct it right now, just the way I would have deducted it from my ledger when I used to pay bills via paper checks?

That might make it even easier to keep track of my money. See, in the old days, I would have balanced my account in a paper checking account, but more and more, I'm using that checkbook less. I'm listening to my bank and bowing to peer pressure -- when I write checks at the grocery store, I can almost hear the snickering -- and paying most of my bills digitally, just like you seem to want me to.

Now, I'll look at my bank account and will remember that I actually have $60 less than I really do, so I'm not concerned. But, still, with all of the technology at your disposal, don't you think there's a way that when I pay my bills through your Web site, you could come up with a way to show that that money isn't there? Wouldn't that improve the odds even more that your customers wouldn't somehow end up in overdraft?

Honestly, that you haven't done that yet, it makes me think -- ha, ha, I'm sure this is ridiculous -- that you actually want me to lose track of how I'm spending my money.

Your friend,

Geoff
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