When the bank does settle down to present the nitty-gritty about overdraft fees—though still in the spirit of fluff—it rather audaciously begins the discussion with an emphasis on the failures of its clients. The page on the InfoCenter portion of the BoA’s site (not, technically, part of the banking center) concerning credit cards begins with these words:

“We’re all guilty of over-spending from time to time, even though we know we shouldn’t. In this section, you’ll find out why it’s so important to stay within your credit limit.” [endnote 4]

Later in this page [endnote 5], one of the headers, “Think before you spend,” suggests that the bank’s primary concern with its web page is to help you think. However, with the amount of fluff on this page—including an annoying woman, “Janet,” who steps out on to the page to address the visitor through audio and pretends to want to assist you [endnote 6]—the disingenuousness of this cautionary line are clear.

The version of this page concerning overdraft feels on debit cards starts a little more modestly, with the statement: “Ever written a check for an amount larger than you had available in your account? Ever overdrawn your account? Learn how to avoid these missteps.” However, “learning”—at least in terms of how to manage your money, and especially in terms of how to navigate their website—is not the goal here.

The section called “Defining Overdraft and Insufficient Funds” tells you what any customer of the bank knows—you are charged $35 for an overdraft. It does explain some details which one might not garner from experience—though, in fact, my experience contradicts this statement: “When we determine that your account is overdrawn $10 or more, you will be charged $35 for each overdraft item.” I thought the fee was triggered by much less than that. In any case, once the overdraft is charged, then any further purchases—they can be for a dollar, even less—will charge a further fee.

Following this statement are plugs for “Overdraft Protection,” which, as many know, involve getting a credit card (but not borrowing against the credit card according to plan of normal credit card spending—it has to be repaid within two weeks, and charges higher interest [endnote 7]) or maintaining a savings account with BoA—in other words, an advertisement.

What then follows is a section titled “Why you’re charged,” which, as in the credit card page, does not explain “why”—the costs to the company, the purpose, etc.—but what. We do learn here that higher items are deducted first, apparently as a courtesy, though as those of us who have had larger items deducted first, only to have smaller items—bottles of coke, for instance—trigger a series of $35 dollar charges, this is hardly courteous. (This phenomenon is called “cascading fees,” and is described below.) Why, with the sophistication of programming in our present time, an algorithm can’t be written to juggle the order of payments and minimize the costs to the customer, I don’t know.

They then tell you about the “Extended Overdrawn Balance” charge (first I’ve heard of it) which is applied when the balance is not fixed within 5 days. The purpose of this charge—clearly, it is punitive—and the cost to the bank—the “why” of these charges—is not discussed. As for their advice on how you can “help”—what a strange word to use here, as if the bank is simply helpless in enacting these charges—there are three themes: Online Banking, Alerts and Overdraft Protection. Of course, all of these either increase your reliance on the web or require additional activities with the bank.

In the middle of this page is a clearly highlighted link to the “Clarity Statement.” I will address this in the following section.

This post is a section of Bank of America Online Banking: A Critical Evaluation. This essay is also available as a book which can be downloaded for free at Lulu (where an inexpensive, not-priced-for-profit print edition can also be purchased) and at Scribd. The table of contents for the blog version of this essay can be seen in its entirety here.