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Bank of America Settles Overdraft Fee Lawsuit

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If you qualify for the Bank of America overdraft lawsuit settlement, you may have already received a postcard in the mail from the bank. Here is information on the overdraft lawsuit, only one of many class action lawsuits against Bank of America. If you recently received a check from Bank of America for about $98, you have received a benefit from an earlier class action lawsuit pertaining to the bank’s debit cards. This article pertains to a later lawsuit regarding overdraft fees.

November 21, 2012 update: Former Bank of America customers are reporting receiving postcard checks. All checks will be sent by November 30, 2012, so some former customers may receive theirs in December. Current customers are receiving their refunds as account credits, as described below.

November 2, 2012 update: The appeals filed after the judgment of settlement was announced have now been resolved. Bank of America customers who were part of the settlement class — those who initially received a postcard informing these customers of their involvement — should receive an account credit or a check to their last known address by November 30, 2012. The amount each customer might receive depends on how many overdraft fees were charted during the period outlined in the class-action lawsuit, but as expected each customer will receive only a fraction of what Bank of America charged in these fees.

Some customers have already reported receiving credits in their Bank of America accounts.

Here’s how the amount is calculated, somewhat simplified. Bank of America re-ordered the debits that caused overdraft fees during a certain time period beginning in 2001 and determined each customer’s amount of over-charged overdraft fees. That amount was reduced by any uncollected amount (if an account was closed with a negative balance). If one customer had $100 in adjusted overcharged fees and Bank of America was determined to have $10,000,000 in overcharged fees total, that customer’s share is 0.001%.

If the total settlement available for class members (total settlement minus lawyers’ fees, expenses, etc.) was $1,000,000, the customer would receive 0.001% of that, or $10.

September 2012 update: It’s been nine months since an appeal to the judge’s decision has been filed, and there is still no resolution. The $410 million awarded to the settlement class is still in dispute.

December 2011 update: While the judge has approved Bank of America’s settlement related to the overdraft class action lawsuit and has ordered Bank of America to pay $410 million, a member of the settlement class who objected to the settlement has filed a notice to appeal the ruling. With an appeal filed, it could take at least a year for the issue to be resolved. If the appeal is denied, customers may still be disappointed. With 13.2 million affected customers in the class and fees to be paid from the settlement fund to the lawyers and class representatives, the benefits each customer will receive are sure to be less than the value of a refund of even one overdraft fee.

Any compensation to affected customers is on hold until the judge enters the settlement and any appeals are filed.

Like many banking institutions, Bank of America processes debit transactions not at the time they occur, but in a batch, from largest to smallest. If they don’t still take this approach currently, they did in 2009 when a class-action lawsuit combined several other legal actions. 24 other banks in the United States and Canada were named in the class-action lawsuit, including Citigroup, Chase, and Wells Fargo.

The banks say that by ordering debits from largest to smallest benefits customers. For example, mortgage or rent payments are generally the largest debits, so they should receive priority and should be the first to be paid. This is not how it works in practice, however. The system is designed to make more money in fees, particularly from the paycheck-to-paycheck class of customers.

For example, five debits may be scheduled to post on a Monday:

  • $800 mortgage payment (check)
  • $200 purchase at the grocery store (debit card)
  • $100 withdrawal at a different bank’s ATM
  • $25 purchase at the book store
  • $4 coffee

That’s the order the funds will be taken from this person’s account. If there is $900 in the bank account, the mortgage payment will be processed, but the four other transactions will generate overdraft fees, one for each, likely totaling more than $100. If the debits were processed from smallest to largest, only the mortgage payment would cause a problem, and the check will bounce. This could cost the account owner less money, but a bounced mortgage payment could be troublesome.

In the more likely event that there is only $500 in this checking account, ordering debits from largest to smallest ensures nothing will go through without generating a fee. However, ordering the debits from smallest to largest, only the mortgage payment would bounce, and there would be no overdraft.

Bank of America will be paying $410 million to settle the class-action lawsuit, which also notes that the banks did not tell customers they could waive overdraft protection, allowing certain transactions to fail rather than paying a fee. Not every bank handles activity posting the same way.

The deadline to opt out of or object to the settlement was October 3. The official website for the settlement is bofaoverdraftsettlement.com.

Photo: Wonderlane
Reuters

Updated November 21, 2012 and originally published July 12, 2011. If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the RSS feed or receive daily emails. Follow @ConsumerismComm on Twitter and visit our Facebook page for more updates.

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About the author

Luke Landes, also known as Flexo, is the founder of Consumerism Commentary. He has been blogging and writing for the internet since 1995 and has been building online communities since 1991. Find out more about him and follow Luke Landes on Twitter. View all articles by .

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