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Overdraft charges confuse consumers


By Daniel Machin

Baffling charges are making it difficult for current account holders to calculate the cost of slipping into an unauthorised overdraft, it is claimed.

Research from Which? shows that people are struggling when it comes to looking at banks' and building societies' charging structures online.

The consumer group asked 18 volunteers to calculate from a mock statement what it would cost to use an unauthorised overdraft.

Between them they got just 10 out of 72 calculations correct.

One of them - a tax inspector - got just one of his four calculations right, while another - a former headteacher - got them all wrong.

Ten minutes to find information about charges

It also took the volunteers an average of ten minutes to find the information about the charges on current account providers' websites.

In some cases it even took longer than half an hour to find these details.

Variation in language used by providers to describe unauthorised overdraft charges was found to cause further confusion for consumers.

Terms such as 'informal', 'unplanned', 'unarranged' and 'unapproved' were all used when referring to the charges.

Complicated charges for an unauthorised overdraft

Commenting on the findings, Which? executive director Richard Lloyd said: "Consumers are faced with a myriad of complicated charges for using an unauthorised overdraft.

"It's virtually impossible for people to calculate and compare the cost of running a current account. No wonder so few people switch between banks when you can't easily compare prices."

In a bid to make things easier, Which? is calling on the government to force banks to release the data they have about how customers use their accounts.

It is hoped the information could be used to develop tools that would allow consumers to rank providers by cost based on their own personal needs.

Barclays aims to simplify its overdraft fees

Barclays announced new measures earlier this month to simplify its overdraft fees.

This includes a 'one per day' cap on its £8 paid and unpaid transaction fees, which it claims would collectively save its customers an estimated £14 million in 2014.

"It is clear that consumers must be able to easily access clear and transparent information about the charges that may apply for overdraft fees," said a government spokeswoman.

"They already have access to free text alerts when a balance falls below a certain level and a free seven day current account switching service.

"Meanwhile a more robust regulatory system that will help deliver for consumers will be in place soon."

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