Big news in the world of banks and overdraft fees

Chase ATMApparently, complaining to your bank might just pay off.

Scratch that. Complaining to Congress about your bank might just pay off.

If you haven't heard, , the term used when a consumer's checking account goes underneath zero dollars. And while it would be nice to think that banks are doing this because they realize it's the right thing to do, there's a lot of speculation that it's because Congress is discussing legislation that would bring the hammer down on bank fees.

So the banks are pulling back, possibly hoping that the urgency for Congress to start regulating them harder will dissipate.

Whatever. I admit that I'm just happy that some changes are coming. I've been hammered by bank fees in the past, and I've certainly read hundreds, if not thousands, of comments from outraged WalletPop readers who want to see changes in how banks charge for overdrafts.

So here's what's changing. Bank of America, starting Oct. 19, will let its customers decide if they want charges to go through after their account hits zero. If you'd rather your debit card be denied at a gas station or restaurant or what have you, instead of being saddled with one or more $35 fees, you can do that. Not that either outcome is great, but a lot of people are starting to see the wisdom in just having their card denied.

But even more jaw-dropping, Bank of America will stop charging fees on overdrafts if the account goes into the negative by less than $10. They'll also limit the damage one can have in a day from overdrafts. Instead of being charged for 10 overdraft fees ($350), they'll charge you no more than four ($140).

Then over at JPMorgan Chase -- and part of me wants to go to an online travel site and book a vacation in Hell, to see if it's frozen over -- they say that by the first quarter of next year, they'll no longer combine a day's worth of debit card and ATM transactions and then process the highest amounts first, ensuring that you pay the most overdrafts you possibly can, and they will instead credit your transactions chronologically.

Critics have been arguing against the original practice for a long, long time.

Meanwhile, like Bank of America, Chase is going to let customers refuse to have overdraft coverage altogether.

As for how this affects everyone who does banking elsewhere, it doesn't -- but it probably will. As Richard Hunt, president of the Consumer Bankers Association, told USA Today, banks are examining how they do overdrafts "every hour of every day" in this flagging economy because they don't want their customers heading to competing banks.

I have to admit, as someone who has occasionally been ensnared by overdrafts, I'm feeling very little loyalty toward my bank right now, and while Bank of America isn't located in my area, Chase is.

Anyway, it'll be interesting to see what happens in the near future with other banks, and with how Washington reacts to this. Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn) has already made his thinking clear. "Bank of America is taking a step in the right direction, but we need legislation to protect every America with a bank account from these unfair fees," Dodd said shortly after the news broke, according to the The Washington Post. "We wouldn't need legislation if the industry acted responsibly in the first place."

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