Home Economics Studying by Bouncing: Overdraft Expertise and Salience

Studying by Bouncing: Overdraft Expertise and Salience

Studying by Bouncing: Overdraft Expertise and Salience


Overdraft credit score, when banks and credit score unions permit prospects to spend greater than their checking account holds, has many critics. One elementary concern is whether or not overdrafts are salient—whether or not account holders understand how usually they overdraw and the way a lot it prices them. To make clear this query, we requested contributors within the New York Fed’s Survey of Client Expectations about their expertise with and data of their banks’ overdraft applications. The big majority knew how usually they overdrew their account and by how a lot. Their overdraft expertise, we discover, begets data; of respondents who overdrew their account within the earlier 12 months, 84 % knew the payment they had been charged, roughly twice the share for different respondents. Nevertheless, even skilled overdrafters had been comparatively unaware of different overdraft phrases and practices, resembling the utmost overdraft allowed or whether or not their monetary establishment processed bigger transactions first.


Overdraft credit score was reworked with the arrival of digital debiting within the Nineties. Earlier than then, bankers determined case by case whether or not to cowl checks as a courtesy for trusted prospects. As debit playing cards and automatic teller machines (ATM) proliferated, banks started adopting automated applications that decide in actual time whether or not to permit an overdraft. These “bounce safety” applications (so known as after bounced checks) had been marketed by business consultants to banks and credit score unions as a possible profit to depositors and banks alike. Monetary establishments can solely cowl overdrafts of consumers who’ve opted into their overdraft program (see Dlugosz, Melzer, and Morgan for extra on overdraft credit score).

Overdraft Surveys

Overdraft credit score isn’t tracked by the main credit score bureaus, so most of what we all know of it comes from surveys and focus teams. The Client Monetary Safety Bureau (CFPB) held interviews and focus teams with thirty-six low- and moderate-income households about their experiences with overdraft credit score, discovering that “(m)any expressed confusion about overdraft protection throughout and after account opening.”

Our findings are based mostly on a bigger pattern of U.S. households that participated within the February 2022 SCE Credit score Entry Survey, a module of the Survey of Client Expectations. The survey covers a nationally consultant pattern of 1,100 U.S. family heads, of which roughly 1,000 responded. All however 2 % reported having a checking account at a financial institution or credit score union. In our dialogue under, we use “financial institution” to seek advice from both banks or credit score unions.

Overdraft Expertise

We begin by summarizing respondents’ expertise with overdrafts over the earlier 12 months—how usually they overdrew, and by how a lot. Virtually four-of-five (78 %) reported zero overdrafts over the earlier 12 months (see the primary chart under, together with the complete survey query). This discovering is in step with different surveys exhibiting {that a} small fraction of depositors pays the majority of overdraft charges. Roughly half of all overdrafts reported had been for lower than $50, barely greater than the everyday overdraft payment today (see the second chart under).

Pondering again over the previous 12 months (twelve months), about what number of instances did you overdraw your account?

Share of respondents

Supply: SCE Credit score Entry Survey, February 2022.

By how a lot did you sometimes overdraw your account (how damaging was your steadiness on common)?

Share of respondents

Supply: SCE Credit score Entry Survey, February 2022.

Trying throughout respondents, we discover that those that overdrafted extra additionally tended to overdraw in bigger quantities; the correlation was 0.36 and considerably completely different from zero. Overdraft charges are often invariant to measurement, so this correlation implies that extra frequent overdrafters obtain considerably extra credit score per payment.   

Simply 1.5 % of respondents didn’t know whether or not they had overdrawn up to now 12 months, and solely 11 % didn’t know by how a lot they’d overdrawn. This discovering means that the occasion of overdrawing, on the very least, is salient.

Anticipated or Unintentional Overdrafts?

Are overdrafts at all times a shock, or do account holders ever anticipate that a purchase order will trigger a damaging steadiness? We requested respondents who overdrew within the earlier 12 months what fraction of the time they anticipated to take action (see chart under). The bulk, 58 %, stated they by no means anticipated to overdraw, suggesting most overdrafts are unintended. We did discover, nonetheless, that the fraction of anticipated overdrafts was considerably, positively correlated (on the 0.31 stage) with overdraft frequency. This discovering is in keeping with a latest CFPB research that discovered extra frequent overdrafters had been extra more likely to count on their most up-to-date overdraft

What % of the time did you count on on the time of the transaction that you’d be overdrawing your account?

Share of respondents

Supply: SCE Credit score Entry Survey, February 2022.

Overdraft Salience

We requested a number of inquiries to assess contributors’ data of the overdraft phrases at their banks, beginning with probably the most primary—the payment charged. The responses are summarized within the chart under. (We excluded the roughly 10 % of contributors who reported that their financial institution didn’t permit overdrafts for a payment.) Totally half of all respondents didn’t know their financial institution’s overdraft payment, a probably worrisome discovering (see the left bar within the chart). Notably, the data hole was largely pushed by respondents who had not overdrawn within the earlier 12 months (see the appropriate bar). Amongst respondents who skilled an overdraft, 84 % knew their financial institution’s overdraft payment. This discovering gives some assurance that individuals liable to overdrafts will know what it can value ought to they overdraft once more.

What’s the payment per overdraft at your monetary establishment?

Share of respondents

Supply: SCE Credit score Entry Survey, February 2022.

We see the same, if much less stark, sample with overdraft limits, or the utmost overdraft {that a} financial institution permits (see chart under). Simply 20 % of respondents general knew the restrict, as in comparison with 39 % of these with overdraft expertise.

What’s the most overdraft your monetary establishment permits (the overdraft restrict)?

Share of respondents

Supply: SCE Credit score Entry Survey, February 2022.


Some banks might clear prospects’ largest transactions first, relatively than in chronological order. Banks declare that reordering helps to make sure that prospects’ hire or mortgage funds clear, however it will possibly additionally improve the variety of overdrafts.

As proven under, simply 16 % of respondents general knew if their banks reordered transactions, and solely 23 % with overdraft expertise knew. It’s unclear, nonetheless, how prevalent reordering is at present after a collection of class-action lawsuits efficiently challenged the observe.

Does your monetary establishment reorder transactions by clearing the most important funds first?

Share of respondents

Supply: SCE Credit score Entry Survey, February 2022.


Inattention, an idea in behavioral economics, additionally arises within the context of overdraft credit score; even when phrases are salient, some depositors might not pay ample consideration. Our survey gauged inattention by merely asking contributors how a lot they cared about their banks’ overdraft insurance policies. About 41 % general stated the insurance policies didn’t matter in any respect—in different phrases, the contributors had been detached (see chart under). Against this, solely about 10 % of these with overdraft expertise had been detached.

How a lot do your monetary establishment’s overdraft insurance policies matter to you?

Share of respondents

Supply: SCE Credit score Entry Survey, February 2022.

Summing Up

Whether or not overdraft insurance policies are salient or shrouded is a key query within the debate about overdraft credit score; excessive overdraft charges are notably problematic if individuals don’t even understand they’re paying them. Our findings recommend that primary facets of overdraft are salient: persons are nicely conscious of how usually they overdraw and the way a lot it prices them. Usually, we discover that individuals with latest overdraft expertise are extra attentive to their establishments’ overdraft insurance policies. Nevertheless, even skilled overdrafters are unlikely to know if their financial institution or credit score union reorders checking account transactions.

Photo: portrait of Donald Morgan

Donald P. Morgan is a monetary analysis advisor on Banking Research within the Federal Reserve Financial institution of New York’s Analysis and Statistics Group. 

Photo: portrait of Wilbert Van der Klaauw

Wilbert van der Klaauw is the financial analysis advisor for Family and Public Coverage Analysis within the Federal Reserve Financial institution of New York’s Analysis and Statistics Group.

Methods to cite this put up:
Donald P. Morgan and Wilbert van der Klaauw, “Studying by Bouncing: Overdraft Expertise and Salience,” Federal Reserve Financial institution of New York Liberty Avenue Economics, April 1, 2024, https://libertystreeteconomics.newyorkfed.org/2024/04/learning-by-bouncing-overdraft-experience-and-salience/.

The views expressed on this put up are these of the creator(s) and don’t essentially mirror the place of the Federal Reserve Financial institution of New York or the Federal Reserve System. Any errors or omissions are the duty of the creator(s).



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