Slow News Day?

November 24, 2009

I just watched the video story that accompanied this article from a local TV news channel.

The news program used a young woman to personify the problem of bank overdraft fees.  A $0.50 pack of gum ended up costing the young woman $35.50 with the overdraft fees.  Ooops.   To her credit, she seemed to learn her lesson:

“It’s easy to just swipe your card and think it’s going to all work out,” Wabel said. “So, I’m tracking it, keeping my registry pretty tight, so I know exactly what I’m spending and when it’s going to come out.”  Wabel said she also signed up to receive a text message if her account drops below a certain point.

Had the story come from the angle of warning consumers against overdraft fees, I would have been fine with it.  The text version started out like that.  Here’s the lead-off:

Before you use your debit card to buy Christmas gifts, you might want to check your bank balance.  Banks are collecting a record $38.5 billion in overdraft fees this year, compared to $20 billion in 2000.

Avoiding overdraft fees is simple and can save you tons of money.  But, the angle in the on-air version was tilted more toward the bad banks taking advantage of poor consumers.  Here’s another quote from the article:

Lawmakers in Washington, D.C. are threatening federal legislation to rein in overdraft gouging.

“(There are) misleading overdraft programs that encourage consumers to overdraw accounts and then slam them with too high fees,” said Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn.

In my psychology classes they called this enabling behavior.  Folks like Chris Dodd never look the people in the eye and say, “Take responsibility.  Manage your finances.  Don’t spend money that you don’t have.”   Rather, they enable people to make dumb mistakes.  It’s not their fault It’s all so confusing.  What they’re really saying is, vote for me.  I’ll take care of you.

It would really be interesting if a news reporter like Dan Weinbaum (the reporter who delivered the story on the air) asked why folks like Sen. Dodd never ask the people to be culpable for their behavior.

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