Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase and Wells Fargo plan to scale back fees and ease rules for customers who overdraw their checking accounts.
Next month, Bank of America will stop charging customers who overdraw by less than $10. It also will lower from 10 to four the number of times a day customers can get hit with an overdraft fee.
"These enhancements were designed to sort of immediately address some of the most pressing concerns for customers who excessively overdraft their account," said Britney Sheehan, Bank of America spokeswoman.
Chase announced that early next year, it will begin clearing debit card and ATM transactions in the order they occur, rather than by the largest dollar amount first, which can deplete a customer's bank account faster. It will also eliminate overdraft fees if a customer's account is overdrawn by $5 or less and reduce the maximum number of overdraft fees a day from six to three.
"We are systematically changing the way all of our debit transactions work to put more control in the customers' hands," said Mary Jane Rogers, Chase spokeswoman.
And Wells Fargo announced that it will eliminate fees for customers when they overdraw their accounts by $5 or less and will charge no more than four overdraft fees per day.
"We want to deliver the best banking experience we can and believe these changes, in addition to the tools we already provide, will help our customers minimize overdraft fees," Carrie Tolstedt, senior executive vice president and head of community banking, said in a statement.
Starting next June, Bank of America will no longer automatically pay overdrafts for new customers, at a $35 charge, unless they have asked the bank to do so in advance. That will make it easier for customers to opt out of any overdraft capabilities, Sheehan said.
"By opt out, we mean that ... Bank of America will not authorize any payment, point of sale, ATM (withdrawal) or checks unless the full transaction amount is in the customer's deposit account at the time of the transaction," she said. "These are tough economic times, and what we've heard from customers is that some of them want the ability to have overdraft protection and some of them don't."
Chase will offer overdraft service on an opt-in basis, meaning customers will be asked if they want the service and will have to say yes in order to receive it, Rogers said.
"It's putting the choice at the customer level to say, 'Would you like us to let the transaction go through, or would you rather we stop it and keep you from incurring a fee?'" she said.
Wells Fargo and Wachovia customers also will be able to opt out of overdraft coverage.