Note: This message is displayed if (1) your browser is not standards-compliant or (2) you have you disabled CSS. Read our Policies for more information.
To most of us, electronic banking means having 24-hour access to cash through an automated teller machine (ATM) or having our paychecks deposited directly into our checking or savings accounts. But electronic banking offers several other services that you may find useful.
This Web site lists types of consumer transactions that are covered under the federal Electronic Fund Transfer Act (EFT Act), discusses the information financial institutions must disclose, explains what you can do if you find errors on your monthly statements, discusses your liability if your ATM card is lost or stolen, and describes your limited stop-payment privileges. The Web site concludes by suggesting where to file complaints.
Electronic banking, also known as electronic fund transfer (EFT), uses computer and electronic technology as a substitute for checks and other paper transactions. Because EFTs are so convenient, you may wish to know the full range of their services.
The best way to understand your legal rights and responsibilities regarding your EFT account is to read the documents you receive from the financial institution that issued you the "access device." An access device is a card, code, or other means of gaining access to your account for the purpose of initiating electronic fund transfers. The means may vary from institution to institution, but most use a PIN for this purpose. This unique number should be known only to you and to select employees of the financial institution.
Before you contract for EFT services or make your first electronic transfer, the institution is required to disclose to you the following information in a form you can keep.
In addition to these disclosures, you will receive for most transactions two other types of important papers -- terminal receipts and periodic statements. (Separate rules apply to passbook accounts from which pre-authorized transfers are drawn. Your contract for that account is the best source of information about those rules.) You are entitled to a terminal receipt each time you initiate an electronic transfer, whether you use an ATM or make a point-of-sale electronic transfer.
Among other things, the receipt must show the date and the amount of the transfer and the type of the transfer, such as "transfer from savings to checking." When you make a point-of-sale transfer, you probably will get your terminal receipt from the salesperson. If you make a withdrawal from a cash-dispensing machine that cannot issue receipts, the institution is required to mail you a receipt on the next business day following the transfer.
New Provisions to the EFTA
New provisions require ATM operators that impose a fee for providing electronic fund transfer services to post a notice in a prominent and conspicuous location on or at the ATM. The operator must also disclose that a fee will be imposed and the amount of the fee, either on the screen of the machine or on a paper notice, before the consumer is committed to completing the transaction. In addition, when the consumer contracts for an electronic fund transfer service, financial institutions are required to provide initial disclosures, including a notice that a fee may be imposed for electronic fund transfers initiated at an ATM operated by another entity.
You also are entitled to a periodic statement for each statement cycle in which an electronic transfer is made. This statement must show, among other things, the amount of any transfer, the date it was credited or debited to your account, the type of transfer and type of account(s) to or from which funds were transferred, and the address and telephone number to be used for inquiries. You are entitled to a quarterly statement even if you made no electronic transfers within that quarter.
Keep and compare your EFT receipts with your periodic statements each month in the same way you compare your credit card invoices with your monthly credit card statement or your checks against your monthly bank statements. Doing so will enable you to make the best use of your rights under federal law to dispute errors and avoid liability for unauthorized transfers.
The Federal Reserve has lifted the mandatory compliance date (October 1, 2001) for interim rules governing the electronic delivery for certain consumer disclosures. Once permanent final rules are issued, the Board expects to afford institutions a reasonable period of time to comply with those rules.
Financial institutions, creditors, lessors, and others may deliver disclosures electronically if they obtain consumers' consent in accordance with the requirements of the Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act (the "E-Sign Act"). enacted in June 2000.
You have 60 days from the date a problem or error appears on your periodic statements or terminal receipt to notify your financial institution. The best way to protect yourself in the event of an error (or a lost or stolen ATM or EFT card) is to notify the issuer by certified letter, return receipt requested, so you can prove that the institution received your letter. Keep a copy of the letter you send for your records.
After notification about an error on your statement, the institution has 10 business days to investigate and tell you the results. If the institution needs more time, it may take up to 45 days to complete the investigation -- but only if the money in dispute is returned to your account and you are notified promptly of the credit. At the end of the investigation, if no error is found, the institution may take the money back, if it sends you a written explanation.
If you fail to notify the institution of the error within 60 days, you may have little recourse. Under federal law, the institution has no obligation to conduct an investigation if you have missed the 60-day deadline.
An error also may occur in connection with a point-of-sale purchase using an EFT card. An oil company, for example, might give you an EFT card that lets you pay for gasoline purchases directly from your bank account. These purchases will be shown on your periodic statement from the bank. In case of an error on your account, however, you should contact the issuer of the card (here, the oil company) at the address or phone number provided by that company. For these types of purchases, after notification about an error, the company has 20 business days to investigate and tell you the results. It has up to 90 days to complete the investigation, if it returns the money to your account and notifies you promptly of the credit. If no error is found at the end of the investigation, the institution may take back the money, if it sends you a written explanation.
You cannot lose more than $50 if your credit card is lost or stolen, but, if someone uses your ATM or EFT card without your permission, you can lose much more.
If you report an ATM or EFT card missing before it is used without your permission, the EFT Act says the card issuer cannot hold you responsible for any unauthorized withdrawals. If unauthorized use occurs before you report it, the amount you can be held responsible for depends upon how quickly you report the loss to the card issuer.
If you report the loss within two business days after you realize your card is missing, you will not be responsible for more than $50 for unauthorized use. However, if you do not report the loss within two business days after you realize the card is missing, but you do report its loss within 60 days after your statement is mailed to you, you could lose as much as $500 because of an unauthorized withdrawal. And, if you do not report an unauthorized transfer or withdrawal within 60 days after your statement is mailed to you, you risk unlimited loss. That means you could lose all the money in your account and the unused portion of your maximum line of credit established for overdrafts.
If your failure to notify the institution within the time periods allowed was due to an extenuating circumstance, such as lengthy travel or illness, the issuer must extend the time period for notification to what is reasonable. Also, if state law or your contract imposes lower liability limits, those lower limits apply instead of the limits in the federal EFT Act.
After reporting the loss or theft of your ATM card, you are not liable for additional unauthorized transfers that may be made. Because these unauthorized transfers may appear on your statements, however, you should carefully review each statement you receive after you report the loss or theft. If the statement shows transfers that you did not make or that you need more information about, contact the institution immediately, using the special procedures provided for reporting errors.
When you use an electronic fund transfer, the EFT Act does not give you the right to stop payment. If your purchase is defective or if your order is not delivered, it is up to you to resolve the problem with the seller and get your money back -- just as if you had paid cash.
There is one situation, however, in which you can stop payment. If you have arranged regular payments out of your account to third parties, such as life insurance companies, you can stop payment if you notify your institution at least three business days before the scheduled transfer. The notice may be oral or written, but the institution may require a written follow-up to be made within 14 days of the oral notice. Your failure to provide the written follow-up ends the institution's responsibility to stop payment. This right to stop payment does not apply to mortgage or loan payments you owe to the institution that issued the EFT access device.
Although federal law provides only limited rights to stop payment, individual financial institutions may offer more rights or state laws may require them. If this feature is important to you, you may want to shop around to be sure you are getting the best "stop payment" terms available.
If you decide to become an EFT user, remember the following precautions.
View the Electronic Fund Transfer Act.
If you believe the institution that issued your EFT access device has failed to fulfill its responsibilities to you under the EFT Act, in addition to informing the issuer, you may wish to complain to the federal agency listed below that has enforcement jurisdiction over that issuer.
|State Member Banks of the Federal
Consumer and Community Affairs
Board of Governors of the Federal
20th & C Sts., N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20551
Office of the Comptroller of the Currency
Compliance Management Mail Stop 7-5
Washington, D.C. 20219
|Federal Credit Unions
National Credit Union Administration
1776 G St., N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20456
|Non-Member Federally Insured Banks |
Office of Consumer Programs
Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation
550 Seventeenth St., N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20429
|Federally Insured Savings and Loans, and Federally Chartered State Banks
Consumer Affairs Program
Office of Thrift Supervision
1700 G St., N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20552
|Other Credit Card Issuers(includes retail/gasoline companies)|
Division of Credit Practices
Federal Trade Commission
Washington, D.C. 20580
If your complaint involves the conduct of a merchant rather than the institution that issued the EFT access device to you, write the FTC office nearest you.