You might be using an app to read this very article. And if you’re reading it on an iPhone, then you got that app through the App Store, the Apple-owned and -operated gateway for apps on its phones. But a lot of people want that to change.
Apple is facing growing scrutiny for the tight control it has over so much of the mobile-first, app-centric world it created. The iPhone, which was released in 2007, and the App Store, which came along a year later, helped make Apple one of the most valuable companies on the planet, as well as one of the most powerful. Now, lawmakers, regulators, developers, and consumers are questioning the extent and effects of that power — including if and how it should be reined in.
Efforts in the United States and abroad could significantly loosen Apple’s grip over one of its most important lines of business and fundamentally change how iPhone and iPad users get and pay for their apps. It could make many more apps available. It could make them less safe. And it could make them cheaper.
The iPhone maker isn’t the only company under the antitrust microscope. Once lauded as shining beacons of innovation and ingenuity that would guide the world into the 21st century, Apple is just one of several Big Tech companies now accused of amassing too much power over parts of the economy that have become as essential as steel, oil, and the telephone were in centuries past.
These companies have a great deal of control over what we can do on our phones, the items we buy online and how they get to our homes, our personal data, the internet ecosystem, even our online identities. Some believe the best way to deal with Big Tech now is the way we dealt with steel, oil, and telephone monopolies decades ago: by using antitrust laws to place restrictions on them or even break them up.
And if our existing laws can’t do it, legislators want to introduce new laws that target the digital marketplace. In her book Monopolies Suck, antitrust expert Sally Hubbard described Apple as a “warm and fuzzy monopolist” when compared to Facebook, Google, and Amazon, the other three companies in the so-called Big Four that have been accused of being too big.
It doesn’t quite have the negative public perception that its three peers have, and the effects of its exclusive control over mobile apps on its consumers aren’t as obvious. For many people, Facebook, Google, and Amazon are unavoidable realities of life on the internet these days, while Apple makes products they choose to buy.
But more than half of the smartphones in the United States are iPhones, and as those phones become integrated into more facets of our daily lives, Apple’s exclusive control over what we can do with those phones and which apps we can use becomes more problematic. It’s also an outlier; rival mobile operating system Android allows pretty much any app, though app stores may have their own restrictions.
Apple makes the phones. But should Apple set the rules over everything we can do with them? And what are iPhone users missing out on when one company controls so much of their experience on them?
Apple’s vertical integration model was fine until it wasn’t
Many of the problems Apple faces now come from a principle of its business model: Maintain as much control as possible over as many aspects of its products as possible. This is unusual for a computer manufacturer. You can buy a computer with a Microsoft operating system from a variety of manufacturers, and nearly 1,300 brands sell devices with Google’s Android operating system.
But Apple’s operating systems — macOS, iOS, iPadOS, and watchOS — are only on Apple’s devices. Apple has said it does this to ensure that its products are easy to use, private, and secure. It’s a selling point for the company and a reason some customers are willing to pay a premium for Apple devices…Continue reading
Social Security’s payroll tax cap was raised nearly 9% for 2023, meaning more income will face Social Security taxes next year, but the rise is unlikely to affect the solvency of the trusts underpinning the system.
Citing the increase in average wages, the Social Security Administration said the maximum amount of earnings subject to the Social Security tax (taxable maximum) will increase to $160,200 from $147,000 starting in January. The announcement was part of the release of the cost-of-living adjustment, or COLA, on Thursday. The taxable maximum for 2021 was $142,800.
While the increase is sharper than in recent years, it’s unlikely the higher taxable maximum will affect the overall Social Security system, experts said.
The higher taxable maximum “will generate more revenue and tax benefits from higher earning households,” said Rob Williams, managing director of financial planning at Charles Schwab. “It will contribute more to the system. Generating more income may help the solvency but we won’t know for sure until the Social Security trustees release their next report.”
The Social Security and Medicare Board of Trustees issues a closely watched report every year on the financial health of the program’s two trust funds that support benefits to retired, survivor and disabled beneficiaries. In June, the most recent report said that without any changes in the next 13 years, Social Security beneficiaries can expect to see a 20% cut to their Social Security checks in 2035.
The change in the taxable maximum will only be felt by the people with income thresholds between $147,000 and $160,200. Those people who earn more than that maximum—even millions of dollars above that level—will pay the same taxes as someone making $160,200, said Eric Bronnenkant, head of tax at Betterment at Work.
“These changes are not designed to move the needle one way or the other,” Bronnenkant said. “It would require legislative changes to do something on the order of changing the retirement age or changing benefits.”
Roughly 80% to 85% of all wages are below this taxable maximum, according to the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College. And only 6% of all earners will be impacted by the change, or roughly six to seven million people, said Jim Blankenship, a financial adviser located in New Berlin, Ill., specializing in Social Security retirement benefits who also writes for MarketWatch.
There’s been proponents who have called for even higher hikes in the taxable maximum as a way to help shore up Social Security. When campaigning for president for the 2020 election, both Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg proposed hiking the payroll-tax cap.
Read: Social Security is at a crossroads this election season—and older voters have enormous power ..“We’ve had so much income and wealth inequality that I do think the higher income people should pay more,” said Nancy Altman, president of Social Security Works.
There have been proposals to stabilize Social Security, such as raising the retirement age, increasing payroll taxes or cutting benefits, and allowing more legal immigration, but legislators have been reluctant to engage the subject of major reform. Social Security has long been referred to as the “third rail” of politics, because it’s deadly if you touch it, but lawmakers aren’t expected to act until the trust funds run lower.
“What it’s going to take is a looming disaster similar to what happened in 1982,” Blankenship said. Read: This could be the perfect time for Social Security reform—except for one thing..Higher wages allowed for workers under the full retirement age
The earnings limit for workers who claim Social Security before their full retirement age will increase to $21,240 and the earnings limit for people reaching their full retirement age in 2023 will increase to $56,520, the Social Security Administration also announced. There is no limit on earnings for workers who are full retirement age or older for the entire year.
“Basically, if you claim Social Security before your full retirement age but are still earning above a certain limit ($21,240 in 2023) then Social Security will withhold part of your benefit and give it back to you later. This is because when you claim early, you receive an actuarially lower benefit. Most people time their retirement and Social Security claiming together,” said Anqi Chen, assistant director of savings research at the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College.
“This just allows someone to earn a little more,” Schwab’s Williams said. “But working in retirement is not just about income. It’s social and an activity and some people still want that.” Some advocates argue that allowing retirees to earn money during retirement raises the question of why Social Security isn’t higher to make such work unnecessary.
“It’s another signal that the Social Security benefits are too low,” Altman said.
Your bank may have a higher-yielding savings account — but it won’t necessarily let you know. The Federal Reserve has raised its key interest rate five times this year, most recently on Wednesday, as part of its ongoing effort to slow the pace of inflation.
Think of it as the virtuous cycle of the lending and saving relationship that banks have with their customers. But until recently, the interest earned on savings accounts hasn’t been all that impressive. “Every interest rate has fallen quite far from previous decades,” said Bankrate.com chief financial analyst Greg McBride in an email.
Up until this year, McBride said, interest rates had declined for the better part of 40 years — and so has the amount of money that banks pay into those accounts. “Looking back to the early 1980s, the Fed funds rate, Treasury yields, and mortgage rates were in the double digits,” he said. “In 1990, the Fed funds rate was over 8%, Treasury yields were 7% to 9%, mortgage rates were 10%.
“By 2020, the Fed funds rate was near zero, Treasury yields were under 2%, and mortgage rates were 2.5% to 3%.”Now that these rates are rising again, money costs more money. But that means there’s an opportunity to get higher returns on deposits. McBride advises customers to shop around to get the best return on their savings.
Not all banks have significantly increased their interest rates for savings accounts. According to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., the average national savings account interest rate is 0.17%. Those low interest rates on savings account deposits recently caught the attention of lawmakers on Capitol Hill, who pressed big bank CEOs last week on why rates weren’t higher.
“As rates continue to rise, we would expect to continue to raise the rates we pay to customers,” Wells Fargo CEO Charlie Scharf said in congressional testimony Thursday. Some financial institutions, especially those that are Internet-only with no brick-and-mortar locations, have traditionally advertised higher interest rates with their high-yield savings account products. Some of these banks offer more than 1% or 2% — and in some rare cases more than 3% on savings accounts, according to NerdWallet representative Chanelle Bessette.
Bessette said online banks have fewer overhead costs than brick-and-mortar branches, and also must do more to compete for deposits. Both Bankrate and NerdWallet offer lists of institutions currently offering the highest yields. Among them are Discover, Capital One, American Express Savings, and Marcus by Goldman Sachs. McBride, the chief financial analyst for Bankrate.com, said it is easy to enroll in one of those accounts, even if you do your primary banking elsewhere.
“You can open an online savings account with just a few minutes of your time, and link it to the checking account at your current financial institution in order to move money back and forth seamlessly,” he said. “If your bank has rolled out a new savings account with a higher yield than the one you’re currently in, just reach out and ask to transfer your money into the new, higher yielding account.”
In some cases, banks aren’t making it clear to existing customers that they can now obtain a greater savings-account yield, McBride said. “We are seeing some chicanery where banks roll out a new savings account that offers an attractive yield while the existing account holders remain in the original account with the original rate,” McBride said in an email.
“It is easy enough to switch to the new account, but you have to take the action to make that happen, the bank won’t come knocking on your door with that opportunity.”
Savings interest rates have slowly been going up in the last few months, and the Federal Reserve has continued to raise interest rates to address inflation. If you’re ready to take charge of your savings and find ways to earn more interest on your money, here are five options to explore.
1. Ask your bank for an increase in your savings rate
While savings interest rates have tentatively increased in the last few months across various financial institutions, this doesn’t necessarily mean your savings account will see a sudden bump in its rate.
If your bank hasn’t made an announcement yet, Maggie Gomez, CFP® professional and owner of Money with Maggie, suggests asking your bank for an increase in the current rate you receive.
Gomez explains some financial institutions won’t immediately deliver a higher rate unless consumers get proactive. “Later, to be more competitive, they’ll increase their rates more publicly, but I think it’ll be really slow,” Gomez adds.
2. Search online financial institutions for a high-yield savings account
According to the FDIC, the national average rate interest rate on savings accounts is 0.17% APY as of May 2022. However, several financial institutions pay much more than the national rate.
Jerel Butler, CFP® professional and founder of Millennial Financial Solutions, suggests looking at online financial institutions for competitive interest rates on savings accounts.
“It’s a little bit tricky with inflation going on,” Butler notes. “The best savings option for a typical savings account is an online savings account.”
Most banks earn compound interest daily. Meanwhile, credit unions usually earn compound interest monthly. If you’re not sure about your account’s compound frequency, contact your bank’s customer support.
3. Consider switching banks if the rate is worth it
Butler says you should also take the time to explore other financial institutions and compare different savings accounts.
“This is a great chance to take advantage of the rising interest rate market, and you may be able to take advantage of a welcome bonus at another bank,” adds Butler. “A lot of banks — as a result of the higher interest rates — are running special promotions, too.”
If you find a specific account that provides more compelling offers than your current bank, you might consider switching institutions.
4. Buy savings bonds
Savings bonds are federally issued debt securities. Lindsey Bell, chief markets and money strategist for Ally, says federally issued bonds are a safe investment option, although there are a couple of things to keep in mind.
“There’s a limit on what you can invest in those. They are also probably a little more volatile than a CD or savings account, so you have to take that into account,” explains Bell.
5. Build a CD ladder with short-term CDs if you find a competitive rate
Butler says building a CD ladder might be ideal if you find a competitive rate and are generally risk-averse. However, if you’re not risk-averse, Butler adds there are more options you should consider first.
CD ladders offer a way to take advantage of higher interest rates on CDs. Instead of depositing all your money into a single CD and locking your deposits for a set time, you’ll split your savings into a mix of term lengths.
Bell suggests sticking to CDs under one or two-year terms. If interest rates increase during the year, a CD ladder provides enough flexibility to buy a new CD once your short-term accounts mature.
Should death be taxing? Amid budget surpluses, states started slashing income taxes last year. But only two have made significant changes to their estate or inheritance taxes so far. Last year Iowa legislators decided to phase out the state’s inheritance tax by January 1, 2025. And this year Nebraska legislators made pro-taxpayer tweaks to its inheritance tax for deaths occurring on or after January 1, 2023.
Other jurisdictions have lessened the tax bite for dying in 2022—through previously scheduled changes or inflation adjustments. But some, without inflation adjustments, are still taxing estates at levels that haven’t budged for years, meaning more families are getting surprise death tax bills. In one of those states—Massachusetts—Democratic legislators are pushing for changes to spare more estates from the tax as part of a broader tax reform package this summer.
In all, 17 states and the District of Columbia levy estate and/or inheritance taxes. Maryland is the outlier that levies both. If you live in one of these states—or might retire to one—pay attention.
These taxes operate separately from the federal estate tax, which applies only to a couple thousand estates a year valued at over $12.06 million per person. (That number is set to drop roughly in half on January 1, 2026, when the Trump tax cuts that temporarily doubled the base exemption from $5 million to $10 million expire.) While few individuals need to plan around the federal estate tax, the state levies all kick in at much lower dollar levels, often making it a middle class problem.
Consider the current state estate tax in Massachusetts. The $1 million estate tax exemption hasn’t been adjusted for inflation since 2006, so it can hit the heirs of middle class folks who have seen their houses and retirement accounts appreciate.
“You can be real estate rich with a modest home, and your estate could be subject to this,” says Scott Cashman, a tax manager with Bowditch & Dewey in Worcester, Massachusetts. “It’s becoming more of an issue every year.” If the $1 million exemption amount set in 2006 had been adjusted for inflation, it would be closer to $1.5 million today.
Say a widow or widower died with a house worth $535,000, a $200,000 bank account, a $350,000 retirement account, and a $15,000 car, for a $1.1 million gross estate. Assuming $50,000 in deductions, the estate tax would be $20,500, he calculates.
(There’s no estate tax when assets are left to a spouse, but in this case the heirs are children.) If the house is worth $1 million, however, the tax would be $65,360— one third of the cash in the bank. Adding to the pain is what’s known as the cliff: Once the $1 million mark is crossed, the estate tax applies to everything over $40,000. “I don’t know if most legislators understand that,” he says.
A bill introduced by Democratic state senators would double the Massachusetts exemption amount to $2 million and only levy tax above that amount, removing the dreaded cliff. “We have such a surplus now, this is the time to do it,” says Cashman. “There’s broad-based support for reform.”
Inheritance taxes—levied in 6 states—can kick in at far lower levels, with the exemption and tax rate depending on the heir’s relationship to the deceased. In New Jersey, for example, if you leave your estate to a Class D beneficiary—including a nephew or non-civil-union partner—they’re taxed at 15% on assets up to $700,000 and 16% on assets above $700,000.
In Nebraska, lawmakers this year fell short of inheritance tax repeal but succeeded in chipping away at the state’s inheritance tax. The new law, effective Jan. 1, 2023, cuts the top tax rates (from 18% to 15%, for example) and increases the exemption amounts (from $10,000 to $25,000, for example). It also eliminates inheritance taxes for heirs under 22, and it makes unadopted step-relatives taxed at the lower rate for nearer family members and not the higher rate for unrelated heirs.
“Lawmakers wouldn’t agree to a general phase-down of the tax at this point that would apply to everyone, but they were willing to accept that if a younger person were to inherit property or cash (and we can use a lot more young residents and entrepreneurs in Nebraska) that it’s not in the state’s economic interest to take any of it away from them,” says Adam Weinberg, communications director with the Platte Institute, which is continuing its effort to repeal the inheritance tax in Nebraska.
Meanwhile, Connecticut, the least taxing of the estate tax states, is on schedule to increase its exemption to $9.1 million in 2022, and then to match the federal exemption for deaths on or after January 1, 2023. In an unusual nod designed to keep the richest taxpayers in the state, Connecticut has a $15 million cap on state estate and gift taxes (which represents the tax due on an estate of approximately $129 million).
Other states with 2022 changes: Washington, D.C. reduced its estate tax exemption amount to $4 million in 2021, but then adjusted that amount for inflation beginning this year, bringing the 2022 exemption amount to $4,254,800. Several states, which all have set their exemption amounts at different base levels, also see inflation adjustments for 2022. Maine’s is $6,010,000, while New York’s is $6,110,000. In Rhode Island, the 2022 exemption amount is $1,648,611.
Citing the impact of Covid-19 on many consumers’ finances, some banks, including Ally Bank and KeyBank, have stopped charging overdraft fees or have offered relief from them. Other banks, however, have gone in a different direction. Between March 13, 2020, and September 20, 2021, account holders filed over 1,600 complaints against various banks to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) about overdraft fees, the agency’s records show.
“Wells Fargo picks and chooses when they are going to charge overdraft fees and when they are going to pay a bill or not,” one complaint filed against Wells Fargo on September 1, 2021, reads. “I will go to sleep and my account [is] positive and there is enough to cover pending charges. Then all of sudden days later the date of the [charge] is changed and I have been charged an overdraft fee. They have recently even had notices within the app that says your balance amount may not be accurate.”
These fees, which can be as high as $35 per overdraft transaction, are an incredible hardship for some consumers. As the complaint continues, “I have a second chance checking account and because of some hardships I am limited in who I can bank with. I feel like Wells Fargo takes advantage of the underprivileged.”
Overdraft fees composed $2.32 billion of those service charges in Q4, a 64 percent spike from Q2 2020
Though some US banks temporarily paused on charging overdraft and other service fees, an analysis of banks with more than $1 billion in assets and some smaller institutions that chose to disclose data suggests that banks are on their way to charging service fees at pre-pandemic levels even as the Covid-19 pandemic resurges.
A March 2021 report from S&P Global Market Intelligence indicated that banks collected $3.6 billion in service fees in the fourth financial quarter of 2020. Overdraft fees composed $2.32 billion of those service charges in the quarter, a 64 percent spike from just six months prior in the second quarter of 2020, the report noted.
Put simply, these fees amount to another tax on the poor, an extraction from the country’s poorest Americans to its wealthiest banks, experts say. Overdraft fees are meant to safeguard banks from risks associated with covering account holders’ overspending, but they can disproportionately hurt low-income consumers who need protection the most, experts told Vox.
Lawmakers and advocacy groups had called for the curtailing of these fees even before the Covid-19 pandemic disrupted the US economy. Now, the call to regulate bank fees has returned as the coronavirus crisis continues to upend consumers’ financial lives.
Why do banks charge account maintenance and overdraft fees?
The FDIC defines overdraft fees as a fee assessed whenever an account holder spends more than what’s in their account. Banks may also charge an account maintenance fee, also known as monthly service fees, just for having the account or for falling below a certain minimum balance, per the FDIC. Banks, of course, can charge a range of other fees, including ATM use fees, per-check fees, and stop-payment fees.
It’s hard to pinpoint when banks began charging overdraft fees in the US. Vox reached out to JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, and Bank of America to ask when they started charging account maintenance and overdraft fees, but none of them shared when they implemented these charges.
According to a 2020 report from the Center for Responsible Lending, banks historically declined debit card charges when account holders lacked the funds to cover charges. But over time, banks — at the urging of software consultants who were promoting overdraft programs on a contingency fee basis — began allowing overdraft transactions to go through and charging customers fees.
“I think that at some point it was clear that it was a helpful situation, so that bills didn’t bounce, checks didn’t bounce, mortgage payments didn’t bounce,” said Peter Smith, senior researcher at the Center for Responsible Lending. “This was a fairly informal service, but when people started using debit cards more [and] people started using electronic payments more, I think banks began to see this as an opportunity for revenue and not just a convenience service they could offer their account holders.”
“I think banks began to see this as an opportunity for revenue and not just a convenience service they could offer their account holders”
Though overdraft fees can be costly for low-income households, they make up a small share of banks’ overall income. Per the Center for Responsible Lending’s analysis, bank overdraft fees average $35. That fee tends to be higher than the value of the transaction that triggers it, which is $20 on average. For banks with assets of $1 billion or more, overdraft or insufficient funds fees are about 5 percent of their non-interest income, the report noted.
Banks charge overdraft fees to account for the risks associated with covering charges on overdrawn accounts, said Deeksha Gupta, assistant professor of finance at the Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon University. Though banks are profitable without charging these fees, they want to avoid risks for paying merchants’ charges and deter account holders from overspending, Gupta said.
Bank fees’ impact on vulnerable consumers
Banks don’t want to take on the risks of covering consumers’ overdrawn transactions, but it remains up for debate whether the fee is truly worth it given its impact on low-income consumers. Overdraft fees tend to prey upon low-income consumers, Rebecca Borné, senior policy counsel at the Center for Responsible Lending, said. The center’s 2020 report found that 9 percent of bank account holders pay 84 percent of the more than $11 billion overdraft fees banks collect every year.
Borné said while other fees serve a function — it does cost banks to administer checking accounts, rendering account maintenance fees somewhat necessary, for instance — with overdraft, the effect is different. Besides charging a high overdraft fee per transaction with insufficient funds, banks engage in a range of practices that can leave customers with compounding overdraft fees, including charging more than one fee per day, charging fees for debit card purchases and ATM withdrawals, and imposing another overdraft fee if previous fees aren’t paid within a set period of time, the Center for Responsible Lending’s report explained.
As some banks resume charging overdraft fees, pre-pandemic research suggests such fees play a role in excluding unbanked consumers from accessing traditional bank accounts. According to the FDIC’s 2019 How America Banks report, about 5.4 percent (7.1 million) of US households were unbanked, meaning nobody in the household had a checking or savings account at a bank or credit union.
Among the reasons why respondents said they don’t have a bank account: Almost half of respondents said they don’t have enough money to meet minimum balance requirements, and more than a third said bank account fees are too high.
Complaints filed to the CFPB offer a window into consumers’ struggles with overdraft charges. “In … 2021, US Bank had enrolled me into an overdraft protection program which I never authorized. One time I was out traveling and forgot to put money in my checking account, and my balance hit negative. I was unaware and kept using my debit card for small transactions like coffee,” reads one complaint filed August 27 against US Bancorp. “The majority of these transactions are below [$10].
Instead of declining these charges, US Bank charged me a series of overdraft fees, each of them [$36]. In the end, the total overdraft fees ended up being [$360] for over a couple of days. They waived three of them, bringing my loss down to [$250] … Talking to their customer service, they never offered an option to opt out of their overdraft ‘protection’ program. They offered some even more predatory protection options instead which I declined.”
With bank fees pushing consumers away from traditional bank accounts, vulnerable consumers may be driven to use even costlier alternative financial services. According to a May 2020 Federal Reserve report, 16 percent of US adults were underbanked in 2019, meaning they had a traditional bank account, but also used alternative financial services like check cashing services, money orders, and payday loans.
The report also noted that unbanked and underbanked Americans were more likely to have lower education levels, be people of color, or have lower incomes. For consumers who are worried about overdraft fees, they’d rather turn to riskier alternatives instead.
As for why consumers turn to alternative financial services, some consumers have no other option, and these alternatives are actively targeting them. The Federal Reserve report noted that 43 percent of credit applicants with incomes of less than $40,000 were denied credit, compared to 9 percent of applicants who earn more than $100,000.
Even for underbanked consumers who have traditional bank accounts, payday lenders and other high-cost installment lenders aggressively target customers in low-income neighborhoods, communities of color, and people who need extra cash, Borné wrote in a follow-up email. Meanwhile, banks don’t always offer affordable small loans for consumers, and they have little incentive to do so because regulators can allow them to charge high overdraft fees for each overdraft, she added.
“Those who go to payday lenders because they believe they will be in and out of the loan quickly are often stuck for the long term, incurring a lot of overdraft fees when the payments are extracted from their accounts,” Borné wrote. “Ultimately, they often lose their accounts. These wealth-draining products tend to feed each other, creating needs rather than filling them, and leaving customers with fewer credit options down the line.”
“These wealth-draining products tend to feed each other, creating needs rather than filling them”
Gupta agreed underbanked and unbanked consumers are often forced to turn to more expensive alternatives. As the coronavirus pandemic continues with no discernible end in sight and assistance programs come to an end, overdraft and account maintenance fees can compound for households that are struggling now, she added.
“Ideally, the banking system should be helping low-income consumers. We don’t want that type of money to be flowing from lower-income households to banks because they’re in overdraft,” Gupta said of the billions of dollars in overdraft charges.
Even though overdraft fees and other service charges make up a small share of major banks’ revenue, some experts questioned whether limiting these fees would disincentivize banks from offering affordable financial services that could attract low-income consumers. As Gupta explained, some banks could opt not to offer certain affordable bank accounts to avoid taking on additional risk. An April paper from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau also suggested that capping overdraft fees could cause banks to offer fewer affordable account options for low-income people.
What to do if you’re being charged too much in overdraft fees
Banks could do a better job of disclosing bank fees to consumers, said Desmond Brown, assistant director of the CFPB’s office of consumer education. He said depending on the institution, overdraft fees can be structured in a complex way. Some bank accounts offer the option to opt in to overdraft fees, so consumers should see whether it’s an option to opt out when looking for a new account.
When signing up for a new account, Brown said, consumers concerned about fees should shop around and ask for bank accounts that are tailored to low-income consumers and learn about the bank’s cost structures. Consumers can also look for banks that provide alerts when their funds are low, he added.
Brown also encouraged consumers to file complaints with the agency if they’re experiencing fee problems with their bank. Doing so not only allows CFPB to assist consumers directly, but it also helps the agency assess issues happening in the marketplace, he said.
“If we have seen a spike in an area of complaints, then we can look to other tools at the bureau to help drill down and find out exactly what’s going on, and be more responsive to consumer needs,” Brown said.
(In their respective statements, JPMorgan Chase said during the pandemic it has waived $650 million in fees, including overdraft fees, between January 2020 and March 2021; and Wells Fargo touted its low-cost, no-overdraft-fee bank account, its zero balance alerts, and its overdraft fee waivers.)
“We’re talking about billions of dollars every single year being drained, disproportionately from Black and brown communities”When asked what the agency is doing to assist consumers who’ve been charged excessive overdraft fees, a CFPB spokesperson said, “Overdrafts have the potential to be very costly for consumers, and we are continuing to closely monitor developments in this area.”
But as consumers file complaints or seek low-cost bank accounts on their own, advocacy groups and lawmakers have pushed for more restrictions on overdraft fees. On June 30, Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) introduced the Overdraft Protection Act of 2021, a bill that aims to regulate the marketing and charging of overdraft fees at financial firms. During a House Committee on Financial Services hearing on July 21, Borné provided a statement on behalf of the Center for Responsible Lending calling for Congress to hold regulatory agencies like the CFPB to protect consumers from harmful overdraft fee practices.
“What to me is especially frustrating is that financial inclusion is all the buzz in a lot of circles. I feel like in a lot of these conversations people just try to talk around the elephant in the room, which are bank overdraft practices,” said Borné. “We’re talking about billions of dollars every single year being drained, disproportionately from Black and brown communities, and kicking people out of the banking system, eroding trust in banks. It’s just a huge barrier to real financial inclusion.”