Is an errant $2 fee worth thousands in compensation?

The SE Texas Record Sep. 30, 2011, 2:22am

When teenagers get their first jobs and open their first checking accounts, they don't always understand that the ability to write checks is dependent upon the availability of funds in their accounts. They'll get notices of overdrafts and express consternation because they "still had checks left."

The advent of ATM machines and electronic banking has made it easier for teenagers and adults to keep track of balances and avoid overdrafts. If you're not mindful of transaction fees, however, you can find yourself unexpectedly in the red and liable for overdraft charges.

The Electronic Fund Transfer Act requires that automated teller machines provide notice of the existence and the amount of any transaction fees and prohibits fees "not properly disclosed and explicitly assumed by consumer."

The notice must be "posted in a prominent and conspicuous location on or at the automated teller machine." It must also "appear on the screen of the automated teller machine, or on a paper notice issued from such machine, after the transaction is initiated and before the consumer is irrevocably committed to completing the transaction."

Prohibiting hidden transaction fees is certainly reasonable. Any person assessed such a fee has a right to demand a refund and/or report the abuse. But going to court over a $2 ATM fee is ridiculous.

That's what Frank Bonarrigo of Collin County is doing.

He filed suit against Northstar Bank of Texas in Denton, claiming that the bank provided no notice on or near the ATM machine of the $2 fee it assessed for his transaction. He's asking for $4,500 in statutory damages, attorney's fees at a rate of $350 an hour, court costs and a jury trial.

Bonarrigo wants thousands of dollars in compensation and legal fees and wants a jury trial that will cost taxpayers thousands of dollars because of a $2 slight.

Who's the bigger offender here?

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