'Tis the season ... of consumer refunds.
In coming weeks, more than $425 million in refunds and restitution is going out to millions of consumers nationwide, thanks to a recent round of crackdowns on deceptive credit card practices.
And another $410 million - from Bank of America - is already landing in pockets of millions who got stuck with excessive debit card fees.
In most cases, no one's going to get rich off these settlements. In fact, folks will likely get back just pennies on the dollar.
But still, cash is cash. And a little extra in the wallet is always welcome.
Behind some of the payouts is the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau - a year-old federal agency launched in July 2011 to play "neighborhood cop" in policing the consumer financial market, everything from mortgages to student loans to credit cards.
Working with other federal agencies, the CFPB this summer and fall ordered three credit card companies - American Express, Capital One and Discover - to return a combined $425 million to consumers, primarily for misleading sales tactics.
"We think this is definitely a case of enforcement getting better," said Bill Hardekopf, CEO of credit card comparison site LowCards.com, who follows the credit card industry. He said the CFPB "is establishing the fact that they mean business. Their 'calling' is to look after consumers and they are trying to show that they will do just that."
With both the credit card and Bank of America rebates, consumers don't need to do anything to get their money. The companies are required to contact customers, whose refunds will be automatically deposited into an existing account. If they're not a current customer, they'll be mailed a check.
But be on the lookout if you think you're eligible. The checks are easy to mistake for junk mail that gets tossed in the recycling bin.
In the case of the Bank of America refund check, for instance, it comes as a small, white foldover card with a bar code on the front. The return address name is likely unfamiliar: "Rust Consulting Inc.," which is identified as the "Checking Account Overdraft Administrator."
If you get a Bank of America check, don't delay in cashing it: They're void in 180 days.
Here's a list of some of the recent refunds under way:
BANK OF AMERICA: Roughly $410 million involves Bank of America checking or savings accounts - accessed with a debit card - between January 2001 and May 2011.
According to the class-action lawsuit that resulted in the settlement, Bank of America routinely processed debit transactions in order of highest to lowest amounts. Instead of debiting them chronologically in the order they occurred, the bank started with the highest amount - say a $1,000 rent payment. If that exceeded what was in the person's bank account, then every subsequent debit charge racked up overdraft fees, which typically are $35 per transaction. As a result, some consumers got dinged thousands in overdraft fees.
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Dozens of banks - from Florida to Utah to California - have been hit with similar class-action lawsuits involving overdraft fees in recent years.
Although the Bank of America settlement was announced in November 2011, the legal wrangling wasn't finalized until a few weeks ago, when checks started going out to consumers.
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