How Banks Make Money when They Can’t Lend


Many people don’t understand how banks make money. Essentially, they are money stores. They buy and sell money, rather than retail items. They sell loans, investment vehicles and various financial products, many of them invented by the banks themselves. Banks earn interest on loans and use that income to pay for interest on accounts and CDs. They also charge fees on financial products and services.

Because banks are in the business of lending, they can’t make money until they have money on hand. That’s why they use enticements like free checking and savings interest to gain new customers. It almost seems obscene that a bank can charge 11 percent interest on a $200,000 loan and then pay customers 1% on a $1,000 checking account, but that’s how banks make such incredibly high profits. Even in the down economy, when everyone else is struggling, banks are thriving and growing.

How Banks Earn When they Can’t Lend

Loaning money is a risky business. If the bank doesn’t get paid, it can’t pay its customers. That’s why banks have been looking for other ways to make money. One huge source of income for banks in a time when fewer Americans have the funds to borrow has been overdraft fees. According to the Center for Responsible Lending, the total cost of unauthorized overdrafts is about $23.7 billion per year.

Overdraft Fees

New regulations intended on protecting consumers from overdrafts, has actually made them more likely. While consumers can opt out of certain overdrafts, point of sale overdrafts often don’t go into effect until a month after an account is open. If the bank does not contact consumers to tell them it’s time to opt out, they may end up paying overdrafts inadvertently.

Recently, Bank of America and Citibank changed their policies on overdrafts for debit accounts. Now, the banks will refuse them unless instructed otherwise. Bank of America and Citibank will only cover debit card and ATM overdrafts if customers sign up to link their savings or line of credit to the checking account. The fees for these kinds of overdrafts are much lower.

Pay Day Loans

Another practice finding its way into banking is the Pay Day Loan. These loans must be paid back quickly, making them much more likely to result in default, then exorbitant fees. Borrowers become trapped in a cycle of debt that essentially amounts to legal loan sharking. Consumers flip the loan continually to extend the time they have to pay. In the end, the average pay day loan costs a 400% annual percentage rate.

Banks are an important convenience for consumers and an important part of our financial system. Unfortunately, they can also destroy the lives of those who fail to use banking responsibly.