Why Do Americans Overdraft?

Sad truth: Americans are spending more on overdraft fees than ever.

In fact, the 10 largest banks in the U.S. collected $11.45 billion in overdraft and non-sufficient fund (NSF) fees in 2017, according to recent data released by the FDIC. Staggering? You bet. So why are we overdrafting, and what types of expenses tend to cause the most overdraft fees?

Let’s dig in to see why you may incur overdraft fees in the first place, and how you can prevent these charges. Read on to learn more.

Bills, Bills, Bills

That’s right. You’re probably not overdrafting because you spent too much on a pair of YSL boots. (And if you are doing this, we need to talk.) Based on a survey conducted by Pew Charitable Trusts, three out of four overdrafters had trouble paying their monthly bills in the past year – everything from rent, to Internet service to other utilities. If this sounds like you and you’re short on funds, look out for overdraft fees.

Ideally, you should have enough money in your bank account to cover your bills each month. But if you’re falling short, consider calling your billing companies to explain your situation, and see what promos or discounts they can offer to you. I aim to do this at least once a year. You can also research competitor rates and put on your negotiating hat.

Eating Out

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), from 2015 to 2016, Americans spent more moola on bars and restaurants ($54.857 billion) than on groceries ($52.503 billion). While there’s no direct evidence that this leads to overdraft fees, a night out bar-hopping or fine dining when your pocketbook can’t handle it can result in non-sufficient fees. Keep in mind: It’s much harder to control how much you’re spending when you’re enjoying a night of revelry than when you’re cooking at home.

If you’re dining out, set a limit on how much you want to spend. Take out cash as necessary, and spend only that much. You can also set alerts on your debit and credit cards. And, if you’re using credit to pay for dining out and you’ve gone overboard, you may be able to temporarily freeze your card. Of course, you can also consider eating out less frequently. Another option: a meal kit delivery service. These services often run introductory deals and can be a fun way to eat at home and save money on those expensive nights out.

Not Checking Your Balance

Sometimes you may get dinged with an overdraft fee simply because you’re not paying attention. I once overdrafted because I spent too much on my credit card in a given month, and forgot to transfer money to cover the higher-than-usual balance. Whoopsies.

If you’re treading financial hot water—or close to it—check your bank account balance religiously. I check mine every morning. This way I can keep close tabs, and if I’m running dangerously low on funds, I can tighten my spending or transfer funds. You can easily do this too with a bank or money management app. It takes only a couple of minutes to possibly prevent an expensive overdraft fee.

Not Saving for a Shortfall

You’ve heard the classic personal finance rule: You need an emergency fund. But easier said than done, right?

If anything, aim to save a couple hundos as a money cushion. According to research by EARN, a non-profit that helps low-income folks save, $250 to $500 was enough to cover a financial shortfall in a given month. That’s likely also enough to cover your bills when you’re having a lean month.

So, make it a priority to have a bit of padding. The easiest way is to auto-save. If you’re a Chime Bank member, you can set up a rule to auto-save a portion of your paycheck. So if your take home pay every two weeks is $1,500 and you commit to saving just two percent, that’s $30 every two weeks, $60 a month, or $720 a year. You can do this simply by brown-bagging it to work a couple days a week, or skipping a latte during your afternoon break.

You can also stash extra cash by saving a portion of your annual tax refund, a bonus from work, or “extra cash,” such as a gift from your Aunt Janet for your birthday or Christmas.

Not Having Enough Around Payday

Does this sound like you: You overdraft because you look at it as a way to borrow money when you’re short on cash. Yet, nothing can be further than the truth.

Overdrafting is not a loan. If you’re feeling financially pinched before payday, consider changing due dates for your bills so they coincide right after you get paid. This way you’ll be in the flush and can afford to cover your bills. Whatever is left over can be used for discretionary expenses—food, gas, personal items, clothing, entertainment and other costs.

If you’re a gig economy worker, you can even align your bills with payments from certain clients. So, if you rake in $500 a week as a rideshare driver, designate that particular paycheck toward your rent and main bills. Money you rake in from other gigs can go toward other spending. Get it?

Are You Ready to Stop Overdrafting?

Now that you have a better understanding of why so many people overdraft and how easy it is to repeat this cycle, it’s time to make a concerted effort to change your habits. Luckily for you, Chime has your back in helping prevent overdraft fees from even happening. Additionally, Chime provides real-time alerts for each transactions, so you always know where you stand with your account balance.

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