Is JP Morgan deliberately trying to confuse its customers?

Beginning in July, the new CARD Act will prohibit banks from charging over-draft fees on debit card customers – unless the customer voluntarily opts-in for the ability to overdraft money from his or her account.

Banks have traditionally profited from debit cards by charging overdraft fees of $30 or more when customers withdrew more money than they had from their accounts.  But the new law gives customers the option to decide whether they want to be able to overdraw money in the first place.

Some banks have started to focus marketing efforts on encouraging customers to opt-in for the overdraft service.

But JP Morgan Chase has been accused of purposely trying to trick its customers by making its opt-out question deliberately confusing.

The Consumerist, an online consumer advocacy coalition, posted Chase’s opt-out question on its website, and I posted it below.  (Click to enlarge)

The controversy

The document leads with “the benefits” of opting in to overdraft money.  The first benefit, listed in bright red letters: “Allows you to use your debit card” – as if to say your debit card won’t work unless you opt in.

It then asks two yes-or-no questions: whether you read the legal disclosure, and then whether you want to opt-in for the overdraft service.  But to the left of the second question are the words FREE EXTRA CKING – in an apparent attempt to confuse people into thinking that clicking “yes” will give them access to free checking.

It’s pretty sketchy, but apparently legal.

The real question: is it even possible to prevent banks from misleading customers?  Or do customers need to do their own research, and quit doing business with banks like JP Morgan Chase?

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