Overdraft Opt-in or Opt-out?

Most financial institutions offer overdraft programs for checking accounts, which for a fee covers a transaction where there is not enough in the account.  However, this service can result in several fees before the next deposit is made.  For debit cards, an overdraft fee cannot be charged unless you have agreed (“opted in”) to these fees.

To reduce or eliminate overdraft fees, these actions are suggested:

  1. carefully track your balance; sign up for low-balance alerts
  2. check your balance when making a debit card purchase; also consider other checks that may not yet cleared
  3. do not opt-in to an overdraft program for your debit card, or opt-out if you are currently opted in; while your debit/ATM may be declined, you will avoid high fees
  4. link your checking account to a savings account to cover overdrafts
  5. contact your financial institution to determine if you are eligible for a line of credit or a linked credit card to cover overdrafts
  6. compare account fees at other financial institutions

Complaints related to overdraft fees or other financial services may be submitted at   http://www.consumerfinance.gov/complaint/ or by calling 855-411-2372.

For additional information on overdraft programs, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Have students search online or contact the costs associated with overdraft fees at various financial institutions.
  • Have students prepare a creative presentation describing actions to take to avoid overdraft fees.

Discussion Questions 

  1. Describe situations that might result in overdraft fees.
  2. What are methods to take to avoid overdraft fees?

Avoiding Payday Loans

Payday lenders see borrowers as prey, people floundering in financial difficulty.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is planning to release proposed rules related to loans and other short-term borrowing, such as auto title loans.  These efforts will include requirements that payday lenders make sure borrowers are able to repay the loans.

Payday loans are usually viewed as a temporary financial solution.  However, quite often borrowers need more time.  As a result, consumers get trapped in rolling over their debt and may be charged as high as 700 percent on an annual basis.  According to the Pew Charitable Trusts, 12 million Americans use payday loans each year, resulting in $7 billion of interest and fees.

For additional information on payday loans, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Have students ask people to describe situations in which a person might use a payday loan.
  • Have students create a list of methods that might be used to inform others of alternatives to payday loans.

Discussion Questions 

  1. What are benefits and drawbacks of payback loans?
  2. What alternatives might be considered instead of a payday loan?

Newcomer Money Guides

While beneficiary, collateral, and fair market value are familiar to many, these terms can be especially confusing to those with limited English-language skills. In an attempt to assist various people, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has created the Newcomer’s Guides to Managing Money to provide recent immigrants with information about basic money decisions.  These guides offer brief suggestions to those who are new to the U.S. banking system.  The guides also include guidance for submitting and resolving problems with a financial product or service.

The Newcomer Guides include these topics:

  • Ways to receive your money, comparing cash, check, direct deposit, and debit cards.
  • Checklist for opening an account, to assist with starting a bank or credit union account.
  • Ways to pay your bills, providing guidance on whether to pay by check, debit card, credit card, or online.
  • Selecting financial products and services, providing assistance on deciding which financial services are right for various household situations.

Print copies of the guides can be ordered or downloaded. These publications are available to English and Spanish with additional languages to be offered in the future.

For additional information on money guides for newcomers:

Article #1
Article #2
Article #3

Teaching Suggestions

  • Have students ask people to create a list of financial planning terms that people find confusing.
  • Have students suggest methods to have people learn about confusing financial planning terms.

Discussion Questions 

  1. What financial problems might be encountered by people with limited English-language skills?
  2. What actions might be taken to assist various groups to better understand banking services and money management activities?

Robo Investment Advice

Automated investment services are expanding.  Many financial service companies are offering “robo advice,” in which investors complete an online questionnaire and a computer program generates and monitors a portfolio of funds.  Robo-advisers are also designed to automatically rebalance a portfolio based on changes in the market as well as any changes in the amounts allocated to certain investments.

With many investors already making their own trades online, investment companies believe that robo advisors have these additional benefits:

  • lower costs for obtaining advice and conducting transactions.
  • an ability to adjust the portfolio for tax purposes by selling shares that have declined to offset gains.
  • an easier investment approach for younger clients with less-complicated financial lives.

 

Some will be concerned about automated portfolio management.  Human advisors will still be available to address issues about mortgages, insurance, estate planning, retirement income, and other topics that robo-advisers are not yet equipped to answer.

For additional information on robo advice, click on the following articles:

Article #1
Article #2
Article #3

Teaching Suggestions

  • Have students ask people to describe the process they use to select investments.
  • Have students create a framework to analyze when using robo advice might be appropriate for an investor.

Discussion Questions 

  1. What are benefits and drawbacks of robo advice?
  2. What factors might be considered when using robo advice for investment decisions?

 

Avoiding Banking App Errors

While smartphone apps have made banking easier than ever, threats to financial security continue to grow.  However, some simple actions can be taken to avoid banking app mistakes.

1.    Don’t conduct banking transactions on public Wi-Fi networks since they are vulnerable to hackers. Use a virtual private network (VPN), which provides added security and encryption.
2.    Log out after your session to prevent a thief from getting access to your bank account.
3.    Select a not-so-obvious username. Create password recovery questions with responses that are difficult to obtain from public records.
4.    Update your app when a new version is available to take advantage new security features.
5.    Create a strong password with special characters, and it should be at least 12 characters long. Change your password every 90 days.

For additional information on banking app errors, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Have students talk with others about their experiences using banking apps.
  • Have students locate online information about the latest security features fof banking apps.

Discussion Questions 

  1. What are benefits of costs of banking apps?
  2. How might banking apps be improved for increased financial security?

Free Financial Coaches Give the Working Poor a Second Chance.

“. . . Financial coaching initiatives that target the working poor have sprung up in communities across the country.”

For low-income wage earners, the idea of paying hundreds of dollars for professional financial help can seem about as far-fetched as buying a winning lotto ticket.  And yet, help is available in a number of the nation’s larger cities including Chicago and New York.  In most cases, the financial coaches volunteer their time and have a background in personal finance or have received financial and investment training.  The participants receive specific suggestions geared to their individual situation that are designed to improve their credit score and help them build a sound financial future.  According to Richard Cordray, the director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, “Having a trusted, well-informed financial coach can increase your odds of financial success.”

For more information, click here.
Note:  There is a short video that accompanies this article.

Teaching Suggestions

You may want to use the information in this blog post and the original article to

  • Point out that often low wage earners don’t have the money to pay a financial coach to help them manage their finances.
  • Describe different situations where the advice from a financial coach could make a difference in someone’s financial future. For example, a coach’s suggestions on how to improve someone’s credit score could lead to obtaining a credit card for emergencies or a short-term loan to bridge the gap between unemployment and employment.

Discussion Questions

  1. Assume you are unemployed and have exhausted your emergency fund.  You are behind on monthly payments including your rent and utilities.  What steps can you take to improve your financial situation?
  2. In the above situation, what suggestions do you think a financial coach could provide that would help you work through this difficult situation?

Auto Dealer Financing

You want a car and need financing, but your credit isn’t so great.  Most dealerships have a Finance and Insurance (F&I) Department that will tell you about their financing options.  To get the process started, the F&I Department will ask you to complete a credit application, which includes your monthly income and information on current credit accounts, including debt you owe.

At least that is how it’s supposed to work.  But there have been reports that some dealers inflate your income information for the financing without your knowledge.  That can cause you serious financial harm.  You could be saddled with car financing that you can’t afford to repay.  That means your car could be repossessed and your credit score could take a hit.

The Federal Trade Commission has a few tips to help you avoid unscrupulous finance deals:

  • Consider your options for financing. You might be able to arrange financing directly with a credit union or finance company before you pick a car.
  • Research the dealer before visiting the sales lot. Check the dealer’s reputation online by searching for the company’s name with words like “scam,” “rip-off,”or “complaint.”
  • If a dealer encourages you to overstate your income, take it as a sign that the dealer is not reputable, and leave the dealership.
  • Ask to see the credit application, completely filled out, before you sign it. Make sure your income and other personal information is correctly listed.

For more information, click here.

Discussion Questions

  1. Why is it important to consider other sources of financing before visiting an auto dealer?
  2. What might be the consequences if an auto dealer inflates your income?

Teaching Suggestions

  1. Have students visit an auto dealership to gain additional insight into this high-cost financing service.
  2. Have students make a short presentation with a summary of their findings.

Banking at the Post Office

Nearly 90 million people in the United States have no bank account or rely on expensive financial services from check-cashing services, payday loan companies, or pawnshops.  To help address this situation, the U.S. Postal Service is considering a program to provide financial services to the population that is underserved by traditional banks.

The USPS, which already offers money orders to customers, plans an expanded product line that would include reloadable prepaid debit cards, mobile transactions, domestic and international money transfers, a Bitcoin exchange, and possibly, small loans. As a result of their size, USPS loan rates would be lower than pawnshops or payday loan enterprises. Post office branches in low-income neighborhoods could provide services to customers in areas no longer served by traditional banks.

Opposition to this action will occur from the banking industry. However, compelling evidence is offered that many Americans lack trust in or access to banks.

While going to the post office for financial services may seem strange in the United States, about one billion people in 50 countries bank through postal system offices.  These include India, Pakistan, Japan, Brazil, Malawi, and Kenya.

For additional information on banking at the post office, go to:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/08/opinion/the-post-office-banks-on-the-poor.html?_r=0

http://www.economist.com/news/finance-and-economics/21601026-americas-postal-service-ponders-foray-financial-services-put-your-money

https://www.uspsoig.gov/sites/default/files/document-library-files/2014/rarc-wp-14-007.pdf

Teaching Suggestions

  • Have students research the banking services offered by postal services in other countries.
  • Have students create interview questions that they might ask someone who does not use a traditional bank.

 Discussion Questions 

  1. What factors would influence the need for the postal service to consider offering financial services?
  2. Describe possible benefits and concerns associated with the U.S. Postal Service offering financial services.
  3. Other than the postal service, how might underserved and unserved banking consumers obtain financial services?

Learning about High-Cost Financial Services

Brian Page, a teacher in Reading Ohio, wants his students to understand the drawbacks of check-cashing services, pawnshops, rent-to-own stores, payday loans, and other shadow banking services.  As a result, he scheduled a field trip for his students to visit these sources of high-cost financial services in their community, which are used by many unbanked consumers.

At LoanMax, they observed people getting loans with their auto titles serving as collateral.  One missed payment could lead to repossession of the vehicle. Next, at CheckSmart, students learned about payday lending and tax refund anticipation loans.

At CashAmerica people were making loan payments on money borrowed, which used jewelry, electronics, and sports memorabilia as collateral. Finally, the visit to the Rent-A-Center store demonstrated the exorbitant costs of furniture, appliances, and electronics when using a rent-to-own payment program.

For additional information on teaching about high-cost financial services, go to:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/24/your-money/a-high-school-field-trip-to-a-pawn-shop.html?src=me

Teaching Suggestions

  • Have students talk with someone who has used one of these high-cost financial services. Obtain information about their experiences.
  • If appropriate, have students visit a high-cost financial service provider to obtain information about their services and fees.
  • Have students create a video presentation with suggestions on how to avoid using costly sources of financial services.

Discussion Questions 

  1. Why are an increasing number of people using high-cost financial services such as pawnshop loans, payday loans, and rent-to-own programs?
  2. What alternatives might used by consumers instead of these high-cost financial services?
  3. What actions might a person take to avoid these high-cost financial services?

Payday Loans

Loans with annual interest rates exceeding 400 percent continue to occur in our society.  Payday loans are often used to bridge a cash-flow shortage between paychecks. Also known as “cash advances” or “check loans,” they are usually expensive, small-dollar loans, of generally $500 or less. They offer quick and easy access to funds for consumers who may not qualify for other credit.

A recent Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) study revealed that four out of five payday loans are rolled over or renewed within 14 days. The majority of payday-loan borrowers renew their loans so many times that they end up paying more in fees than the amount of money they originally borrowed.  This study also reported that:

  • only 15 percent of borrowers repay all of their payday debts when due without borrowing again within 14 days.
  • 20 percent default on a loan at some point, and
  • 64 percent renew at least one loan one or more times.

These actions often create exorbitant fees and charges, and keep the consumer in perpetual debt.

For additional information and a complete copy of the payday loan report go to http://files.consumerfinance.gov/f/201403_cfpb_report_payday-lending.pdf

Discussion Questions

  1. Why does the market for payday loans exist?
  2. What actions might be taken to avoid using payday loans?
  3. Recommend actions for people who are caught in the trap of payday loans.

 

Teaching Suggestions

  • Have students visit a payday loan office or an online payday loan provider to gain additional insight into this high-cost financial service.
  • Have students make a short presentation with a summary of actions that might be taken to avoid payday loans.