The Slippery Slope of Debit Card Value

by Mercator Advisory Group 0

In these last days leading up to the announcement of the final Fed rules regarding debit card interchange fees, there is heightened interest in anything to do with checking account fee income. Hence we’re seeing articles like this one that dig into how banks are selling overdraft protection services for debit card transactions. Automatic enrollment into these programs was outlawed by the Overdraft Fee Protection Act, which went into effect on July 1, 2010. Since then, financial institutions have had to sell this service to consumers.

“One comprehensive report from Wells Fargo showed that as of March 18, Rancho Cucamonga’s Victoria Gardens branch had persuaded 67.65% of new checking-account holders to opt in for overdraft protection. Arcadia’s main branch was at 78.74%. And 83.61% of new Rose Ranch customers in Oxnard signed on.”

This article goes on to criticize banks for persuading consumers to opt-in to overdraft services and questions whether or not they need them.

“Critics say Wells Fargo and other banks are pushing customers into something they don’t need; some advise not using debit cards at all and getting by with credit, since consumers are better protected from fraud when they use credit cards.”

The current de-valuing of debit cards is a disturbing trend and one that assumes a great deal. In this article, there is an assumption that consumers can simply switch to using credit cards, as if these two products are interchangeable. In reality though, should consumers be frightened away from using debit cards, most current surveys indicate that they will turn back to using paper payment forms – cash or checks. Cash offers less consumer protection than electronic payment cards and checks are subject to overdraft fees.

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