Why Do Banks Charge Overdraft Fees? [How To Avoid In 2024?]

Updated On: 08/24/2023
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Have you ever wondered why do banks charge overdraft fees? Maybe you've experienced that moment of surprise when checking your account balance and seeing it lower than expected because of a fee tacked on due to insufficient funds.

Overdraft fees are a standard part of banking that can sometimes cause frustration for many. To give you some perspective, the average bank overdraft fee in the U.S. is about $35, which might prompt you to question why such fees exist in the first place.

Let's shed some light on this subject and help clarify why these charges are present and how they impact your banking experience and overall financial health.

Why Do Banks Charge Overdraft Fees?

Overdraft fees are essentially a charge that banks levy when you withdraw more money than what's available in your account. Banks charge these fees for the following reasons:

  • Services Rendered: When you've exceeded your account balance, the bank covers the additional cost, essentially a short-term loan. The overdraft fee serves as a service fee for this temporary lending.
  • Risk Compensation: Overdrafts can be risky from the bank's perspective due to potential non-repayment. The fees they charge can help mitigate some of this risk.
  • Instilling Discipline: Overdraft fees remind customers that drawing more than their balance is not an ideal financial behavior.
  • Revenue Generation: Banks are, after all, business entities. These fees also serve as an income source and contribute significantly to their profits.

A Consumer Financial Protection Bureau report stated that large U.S. banks made approximately $11.68 billion in 2019 from overdrafts and insufficient funds fees.

It's clear why banks don't want to abandon such profitable practices. If you want to avoid these charges, it’s wise to keep regular tabs on your balance, consider linking your savings account or credit card for overdraft protection, or opt out of overdraft coverage altogether.

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What Is an Overdraft Fee?

What Is an Overdraft Fee?

An overdraft fee is a charge your bank imposes when you make a transaction that exceeds your available balance in your checking account.

If you have $100 in your account but purchase $105, you've overdrafted your bill by $5.

The bank still completes the transaction but charges an extra fee as a penalty. According to a report by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), banks can charge anywhere from $5 to $38 per overdraft with an average cost of around $35.

This can add up quickly if multiple transactions are processed before you realize you're overdrawn.

To avoid these steep charges, monitoring your account balance regularly and opting for features like automatic transfers or overdraft protection is crucial.

Are Overdraft Fees Legal?

In the simplest terms, yes, overdraft fees are legal.

According to United States federal law, banks must obtain your consent to charge overdraft fees on one-time debit purchases and ATM withdrawals.

This is known as "opting in." If you do not opt-in, your bank can decline these transactions that would overdraw your account.

This regulation is part of the Overdraft Protection Law implemented by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau(CFPB) in 2010.

The primary directive is transparency and consumer protection–in other words, ensuring you're informed about what you're signing up for regarding these fees. You have the power to choose how extensively you use this provision.

How Much Is an Overdraft Fee?

How Much Is an Overdraft Fee?

The cost of an overdraft fee can vary extensively across different banks and credit unions. The generally accepted average in the United States has hovered around $35 for quite some time.

According to a 2019 survey by Bankrate, the average overdraft fee amongst their surveyed institutions was $33.36.

Certain banks may charge lesser fees of $12-$25 in the ballpark, while others might go as high as $38 or even more per overdraft.

Remember that these fees are typically imposed per transaction, which means if multiple charges are processed when your account is overdrawn, those overdraft fees can rack up fast.

Banks often establish daily maximums on how much they can charge you in overdraft fees. These limits range from $70 to upwards of $200 per day.

  • Wells Fargo: Charges $35 for each item and caps at three items per day.
  • Chase Bank: Levies a $34 fee per item, capped at three daily things.
  • Bank Of America: Charges $35 per item with a limit of four daily charges.

Not all transactions are subject to enable this fee; only ATM withdrawals and debit card transactions are eligible if you've provided consent or "opted-in."

Overdraft Protection Act of 2021

The Overdraft Protection Act of 2021 is pending legislation in the United States, driven to provide more consumer-friendly regulations regarding bank overdraft fees.

  • Limit on Fees: The Act proposes a strict limitation on the number of overdraft fees that can be charged annually.
  • Reasonable and Proportional Fees: Any charged fee should be reasonable and proportional to the financial institution’s expenses.
  • No Manipulation: Financial institutions should not reorder transactions to maximize potential fee income.

This proposed act has been introduced into Congress but is yet to be passed. Once enacted, it would provide stricter regulations for financial institutions and offer more protection for consumers against excessive charges.

How to Avoid Overdraft Fees

How to Avoid Overdraft Fees

Here are a handful of ways you can avoid racking up those pesky overdraft fees:

  • Monitor Your Balance: Make sure you frequently check your account balance. Many banks offer text or email alerts when your balance drops below a certain threshold, helping you avoid overdrafts.
  • Set Up Direct Deposits: This ensures that your paycheck goes directly into your account, potentially making it available sooner and reducing the chance of insufficient funds.
  • Link to a Savings Account or Credit Card: By linking another account to your checking account for overdraft protection, any shortfall will be covered by funds from the connected account instead of resulting in an expensive fee.
  • Opt-Out of Overdraft Services: You can choose not to opt for overdraft services. When you do this, your card is declined if there are insufficient funds. Thus, no overdraft occurs.

Financial institutions are unique, each with policies about setting up these provisions. Reviewing your bank’s specific policies regarding avoiding fees is essential.

Taking these precautionary measures ultimately equips you with control over one aspect of finances that often seems unpredictable.

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Other Overdraft and Account Fees

Aside from overdraft fees, you might encounter several other charges related to your account.

NSF Fees

Non-Sufficient Funds (NSF) fees kick in when a bank returns an item like a check or scheduled automatic payment because of insufficient funds in your account. Both the payer's and payee's banks will often charge this fee.

Monthly Maintenance Fees

Monthly maintenance fees are regular charges that some banks impose for maintaining your checking or savings account.

Some banks waive these fees if you keep a certain minimum balance or set up direct deposit.

Minimum Balance Fees

Charging minimum balance fees happens if your account drops below the specified minimum balance daily during the billing cycle.

Different banks have different minimum requirements, which can vary widely.

ATM Fees

ATMs not operated by your bank might charge an ATM fee per transaction. Often, this charge applies to both withdrawals and balance inquiries. Your bank may reimburse these ATM costs up to a specific monthly limit.

Therefore, reading through all fine print and fees when opening an account or considering switching to an online bank or credit union with lesser costs is crucial.

An advance arrangement like overdraft protection can help avoid such punitive charges.

Properly managing your bank transactions and understanding the terms associated with your accounts can significantly minimize costly fees.

FAQs About Overdraft Fees

What prompts a bank to charge an overdraft fee?

An overdraft fee is applied when you make a purchase that exceeds the balance in your checking account, causing your account to go into negative.

Are all banks mandatory to charge an overdraft fee?

No, not all banks are mandatory to charge overdraft fees. While many banks do, plenty of banks and credit unions do not charge these fees.

How often can a bank charge me an overdraft fee?

Banks can levy multiple overdraft fees per day. The number often depends on the specific policies of the individual bank.

Is it possible to get a refund on my overdraft fees?

Yes, it is possible through what's referred to as a "courtesy refund". It’s always worth it to call your bank and politely ask if they would be willing to remove the fee.

Can I opt out of having an overdraft protection service from my bank?

Yes, customers can opt-out or cancel their overdraft protection service anytime by simply contacting their bank.


While overdraft fees may seem like an unwelcome surprise, understanding why they exist can help us take steps to avoid them.

They serve as the bank's way of covering a short-term loan for you, compensating for risk, and encouraging sound financial management.

Also, they substantially contribute to the bank's revenue stream. Your awareness and vigilance about your account balance and intelligent use of features like automatic transfers or overdraft protection can save you from these charges.

As always, knowledge is power when managing your finances effectively.

Michael Restiano

I support product content strategy for Salt Money. Additionally, I’m helping develop content strategy and processes to deliver quality work for our readers.

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