Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Inattention and bank overdrafts

It happens to everyone: you are not careful and despite having sufficient funds, your checking account is drying up at the wrong moment and you incur an overdraft fee from the bank. Oh well, you say, the penalty is somewhat stiff, but bad planning has consequences. But for those who have genuine liquidity problems or those that are really bad at planning, those fees can add up quickly and become substantial. Even on an aggregate level, it is important. Apparently, US banks earn $35 billion a year from overdraft fees, or a staggering $100 per capita.

Victor Stango and Jonathan Zinman study what can make that people avoid those fees. A lot has of course to do with education and self-discipline, thus reminders become an important tool. Indeed, they notice that people who were exposed to information about overdraft fees in surveys are less likely to incur such fees in the next month, by 12%, and this effect builds up over multiple exposures. This works best with those who need it the most: low education and low financial literacy. And as people avoid overdrafts by making fewer transactions, not increasing balances, it indicates they lower their expenses as a reaction to realizing that they may not afford that much spending. In other words, financial and economic literacy are important and should be favored.

No comments: