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Bank of America to test allowing customers to OK overdrafts via text message

Sometime next year the bank will begin sending text messages offering to approve purchases that would put an account in the red if the customer agrees to a $35 overdraft fee.

May 10, 2011|By E. Scott Reckard, Los Angeles Times

It can make for an awkward moment at the cash register: After swiping your debit card, the clerk shrugs and says, "Sorry, it's been declined," because you don't have enough money in your checking account.

Then your cellphone buzzes with a text message from Bank of America offering to make the payment after all — if you agree to a $35 overdraft fee.

That scenario is envisioned under a planned BofA pilot program that would let some customers authorize — by text message — an account-busting debit-card charge, company spokeswoman Anne Pace said Monday.

The customer's approval of the overdraft fee would apply only to the transaction in question.

The program, planned for next year, would mark a bit of a shift for Bank of America Corp., which last summer stopped permitting one-time debit-card transactions that otherwise would overdraw a customer's account.

The Charlotte, N.C., company put that policy in place last summer in response to a federal ban on most ATM and debit-card overdraft fees imposed without the depositor's upfront consent.

Some of BofA's rivals responded to the ban by asking customers to "opt in" to all overdraft fees as a way to avoid declined transactions.

Allowing customers to approve a single fee-generating debit-card purchase would resemble an option already available at Bank of America ATMs, where customers can overdraw their accounts via a cash withdrawal but only after agreeing on screen to the $35 fee.

As with such ATM overdrafts, BofA's pilot program would give customers who approve a debit-card overdraft the ability to avoid the fee by adding enough money to their account by 8 p.m.

Pace said it was too early to say where or exactly when the pilot would begin. Customers would have to agree in writing to enroll in the program before they would get text messages under it.

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