BB&T to alter overdraft policy

BB&T Corp. on Monday became the latest major bank to eliminate overdraft fees for customers who overdraw their accounts by less than $5.

The Winston-Salem, N.C.-based bank said it would not charge more than four overdraft fees a day. The changes are effective Jan. 1.

BB&T also said it would provide overdraft alerts at its automated teller machines.

"Client satisfaction continues to be our top priority," said Donna Goodrich, a senior executive vice president for BB&T's deposit-services unit.

"The changes we're announcing today, in addition to tools and services we already provide, will help our clients better manage their deposit accounts."

BB&T already has a policy that allows clients to make the choice of having the bank decline payment on presented transactions that would overdraw the account.

The bank offers several methods for customers to monitor their accounts and avoid overdraft fees, including online banking, call centers, e-mail alerts, mobile banking tools and ATMs.

BB&T joins Bank of America, Wells Fargo and JP Morgan Chase in altering overdraft policies that have drawn criticism for being excessive and harmful to consumers.

Wells Fargo said Wednesday that it would eliminate overdraft fees for customers of Wells Fargo and Wachovia Bank when they overdraw their accounts by $5 or less in one day. It also will charge no more than four overdraft fees a day.

Wells Fargo said that customers will be able to opt out of overdraft coverage, meaning that transactions will be denied at the register if customers don't have enough money in their accounts. The timing of the change at Wells Fargo and Wachovia is still to be determined.

In recent years, banks large and small have viewed the overdraft fees they charge customers as speeding tickets.

Consumers who don't pay attention to their checking and other accounts and go beyond their monetary limit get tagged with fees that can run as much as $36 for an overdraft of just $1.

The banks say that overdraft fees work as a deterrent. They cite a 2008 report by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., which found that 25 percent of consumers have one or more nonsufficient-fund transactions each year.