Dear Liz: My bank unexpectedly charged me a $25 annual fee for overdraft protection, which ironically caused two checks to bounce because I no longer had sufficient funds to cover them. I was then charged overdraft fees of $27.50 for each check, as I was already maxed out on my overdraft protection. I don’t remember the bank charging this fee before and it didn’t mail anything to me warning that this charge was coming. It was so disheartening as I knew I had enough money in the account to cover the checks I had out. Had I known I would have found a way to deposit more money to cover the transactions. I actually feel my banker watches my account looking for ways to rob me.
Answer: Your bank isn’t the real problem here. Yes, banks can charge sneaky fees, and sometimes their disclosure leaves a lot to be desired. But you’re severely mismanaging your money if a $25 fee can cause this big a problem.
You should keep at least a $100 pad in your checking and keep an eagle eye on your balance to try to prevent overdrafts in the first place. If overdrafts occur despite your best efforts, then your priority should be repaying those — not writing more checks.
If you can’t manage that, then you should turn off your ability to overdraft. If you have true overdraft protection — your checking account is linked to a line of credit or credit card — ask your bank to discontinue that. You also should decline the bank’s “bounce protection,” which allows overdrafts on ATM and debit card transactions in exchange for a fee. Recurring transactions and checks can continue to trigger overdraft charges, however, so your best bet is to switch to your debit card and cash until you have a better handle on your cash flow.