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Cecilia Michelson Headshot

When Did Debit Cards Become #@*!ing Credit Cards?!

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I'm pissed. Oh yes. And you should be too! I have been unfairly slapped with over $500 in overdraft fees! My husband and I opened a checking account last year at WaMu with an overdraft protection of $100 that suddenly without our knowledge was increased to $1,000. Apparently this "reward" was due to our account having a perfect record. We never really bothered to check what our overdraft limit was because we figured that if the account happens to become overdrawn maybe the bank will cash one check and slap us with one overdraft fee, but after that we simply won't be able to take cash out of the ATM nor get approvals on purchases, sounding an alarm OMG my account is negative, think options-make a deposit, use credit card, wait til payday! I know that I've been disappointed at the ATM and embarrassed at the register many a time in the past with a declined transaction, even when there was money in the account! Well, sadly those days are gone. You can no longer rely on declined approval codes because banks now love to give you cash and approve transactions in order to charge fees. I guess with the economic crisis this is their new way to make money.

The part that upsets me the most is that they increased the overdraft protection without our knowledge. Or maybe they did inform us by mail, in some brochure with fine print. But who really has time to read those things and anyway why should you expect to have a credit line on your debit card? When did the definition of debit change? Aren't the credit card logos on the card just there so that you can use your debit card with any vendor? I would much rather have had a check bounce and pay one returned check fee than have gotten $34 tacked onto more than 15 transactions made over a period of 2 days! When I called the bank to plead to get the fees reversed they put the blame entirely on us that it was our responsibility to check the balance on the account. Oh, so no wonder that ATM's now have a new prompt asking if you want to check your balance before opting to make a withdrawal! Was anyone else annoyed and surprised by this new added step to the ATM experience? This is their way of covering themselves before they give you money you don't have and then charge you a fee for it. Doesn't this change the meaning of a "debit" or "check" card completely? Furthermore, when vendors ask you "debit or credit" doesn't this reinforce the idea that if you say debit you rely on available funds?

When I explained to the bank that we had no idea we would get these approvals, of course their cookie cutter response was, "This is not a bank error, it is your responsibility to check your balance, blah, blah, blah..." So you might say they are right, you should know your balance, be responsible etc. But in these fast paced times and with most people having multiple bank accounts that serve different purposes, I think that relying on being declined as was the policy in the past, was not such an outrageous expectation. So I guess we were victims of this changing paradigm of how a debit card now functions and how banks use it to make money, since they have lost money everywhere else. But don't let this happen to you! Banks want you to feel they are being helpful and working with you. But the truth is they are not doing anyone any favors when even a $1 transaction that takes you over ends up costing you $35. A 3400% interest rate! (did I do the math right?)

One thing that this experience brought clarity to regarding the economic crisis was that I had never understood how people took on mortgages that they couldn't afford. Now I see that perhaps banks didn't care to explain the terms very carefully to borrowers who perhaps weren't educated enough to do the research themselves. The bank's scapegoat being "It's your responsibility." Not acceptable when people's shelter is on the line. But also unacceptable to take people's hard earned dough during this time of transition in debit card policies without making a clear statement to the public.

Bad, bad karma.