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2006: A look back - A look ahead  
  The landscape was schizophrenic in 2006 but a slow economy could fuel a rates war in 2007.
 Checking & savings
 Personal finance calendar  Personal finance calendar 

Negative savings marked 2006

One measure that was supposed to help consumers, The Truth in Savings Act, took effect in July. The purpose was to include more information about the cost of services on the bank statement if banks actively market their courtesy overdraft programs.

Because of questions from both consumers and consumer groups, the FDIC will begin a study of courtesy overdraft programs and fees next year.

The Federal Reserve is also scheduled to release its study on check hold times in 2007.

Who are you banking with today?
Mergers continued as a big trend in banking. "The result this past year has been more cookie cutter products and less interest in the low-balance customer," says Gail Hillebrand, a senior attorney for Consumers Union. With mergers, customers often face new bank rules -- changes in fees, the length of time it takes for money to be put in or taken out of the account, or new prices for services -- and some confusion and frustration.

After mergers consumers end up with "fewer choices and higher fees," says Mierzwinski.

But the banking industry believes mergers are making individual banks more responsive to consumers. "When you do a merger, you want to retain those customer relationships," says Leggett. "It doesn't help if your customers walk out the door."

Mergers and acquisitions are "nothing new" in the banking industry, says Hart, who adds that he doesn't believe it should have an effect on consumers.

Security and convenience
This year, "a lot of banks started to think about the fraud aspects," says Sherry. Two areas where she's seen increased consumer education are cashiers check fraud and bank draft fraud.

Banks are also streamlining online bill pay systems, she says. Some banks will allow you to postdate checks and the amount won't come out of your account until that time. And some banks are also making it easier to see if the payee has actually been paid, she says.

Banks and credit unions are also experimenting with new technological innovations that can make managing finances more convenient.

In addition, some institutions are adding convenience features, like reminders customers can set to come to their PDA or phone to pay certain bills or notify them if the balance drops below a certain amount.

Says Sherry, "It's a really good move for the industry to allow people to set these individual alerts."

Dana Dratch is a freelance writer based in Atlanta.

-- Posted: Nov. 1, 2006
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