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Appendix B. Protocol for Focus Groups with Consumers

Introduction (5 minutes)

Hello, and thank you for participating in this focus group today. My name is ____, and I work for a company called ICF. My firm is working with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), which is an agency of the Federal government whose role is to protect consumers. For this specific project, the CFPB is interested in learning more about consumers’ experiences with _______ [overdraft programs / credit scores and reporting / background screening related to housing or employment / financial decision-making].

During today’s session, which we expect will take between 60-90 minutes, we’ll be talking about each of your experiences with [insert topic]. We hope to use these interviews to get a better understanding of what consumers know about this topic, their experiences, and how people make decisions around that topic.

Before we begin, I wanted to provide some ground rules for our session. First, please know that participation in this focus group is voluntary and you are welcome to participate as much or as little as you want. And if there are any questions that I ask that you prefer not to answer, please let me know and I will skip them. Second, in addition to me there are a few other people observing this interview, both from ICF and from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. They will be listening to what you have to say and taking notes. Does this all make sense, and does anyone have any questions? (Pause for any questions)

We would also like to record this session, but the recording will not be shared with any outside parties and will be used only for research purposes pertaining to this project. Are you comfortable with us recording this discussion? (Get agreement before continuing.)

Module 1: Overdraft Programs

General Understanding of Overdraft Programs

1. By a show of hands, who here has an account with a bank or credit union?

  • Are your accounts checking or savings accounts?

2. For those of you who do not have a bank account, have you ever had one in the past?

  • If so, why do you no longer have one?

3. By a show of hands, has anyone ever tried to buy something for which you didn’t have enough money in your account?

  • What happened? Did the purchase go through?
  • Did you know that was going to happen, or were you surprised? Why? If you were charged a fee, did you know that you would be charged?
  • How did you try to make that purchase? With a debit card? A check?
  • Were you charged a fee?
  • Would you have wanted something different to happen when you tried to make that purchase? If so, what? If purchase went through and participant was charged a fee, probe to see if they wished that the purchase had instead not gone through—and vice versa.

Overdraft Protection

4. By a show of hands, how many people have heard of “overdraft protection”?

  • How many of you think you have overdraft protection on your current account? How many of you think you do not have overdraft protection? How many of you don’t know?
  • [For participants who no longer have a bank account] When you had a bank account, did you have overdraft protection?

5. Can someone who has overdraft protection talk a little bit about what “overdraft protection” is and how it works?

If needed, here is a definition of overdraft: An overdraft occurs when you don’t have enough money in your account to cover a transaction, but the bank pays the transaction anyway. You can overdraw your account through checks, ATM transactions, debit card purchases, automatic bill payments, and electronic or in-person withdrawals. Many banks and credit unions offer overdraft protection programs in which the bank or credit union generally pays the transaction and charges you a fee (in addition to requiring repayment of the overdraft amount). Overdrafts can also be covered through a transfer of funds from a linked account, credit card, or line of credit.

6. When you opened your account, did you know at that point whether or not you had overdraft protection?

  • Did you ask about overdraft protection when you opened your account?
  • Is overdraft protection something you considered when choosing your account? Did you ask different banks or credit unions about their overdraft protection policies in order to choose between them?

7. Did you sign up for overdraft protection, or was it given to you automatically?

  • If you signed up for it intentionally, what was the reason?
    • Did you talk to anyone before signing up for it, or look for information anywhere else about what the advantages and disadvantages might be?
  • If you did not sign up for overdraft protection intentionally, how did you find out that you had it?
    • When you found out you had it, how did you feel about it?
  • Have you ever considered ending your overdraft protection? Do you think you could?

8. Has anyone been charged with an overdraft fee? Ask participants to raise hands.

  • When you overdraft your account, do you usually know that you are doing so—or does it happen by accident?
  • Do the fees that you are charged impact your finances significantly? Have you ever had trouble paying them back?
  • When you overdraft your account, what kind of purchases is it usually for? Does it tend to be for smaller or larger purchases?
  • Have you experienced being charged multiple overdraft fees over a short period of time? Same day or a small number of days? What happened?

9. What strategies do you use to avoid overdrafts? (e.g., balance alerts, check balance online, wait until day after paycheck to go grocery shopping). Is it difficult to know when you might overdraft?

10. When you have been charged fees, have you ever complained to the bank or credit union? If not, why not?

  • Have you ever asked your bank/credit union to waive a fee? Do you think you could do this, and do you think it would be successful?

11. Do you think that there are any bank accounts that don’t charge overdraft fees? Have you ever heard of any accounts like that?

12. Has anyone closed or considered closing your account because of overdraft fees that you were charged? Ask participants to raise hands.

  • [For participants who did close their account] Do you think you will open another one? Or would you just go without a bank account in order to avoid overdraft fees?
  • Have you taken other financial steps to avoid these fees? (e.g. using other types of credit such as a payday loan or credit card, or going without a purchase)

[For participants who have had their bank account closed]

13. Do you like not having a bank account or do you wish you still had one? Why?

14. Have you ever tried to apply for a bank account after your previous one was closed? Were you able to open up the account?

  • If not, do you know what the issue was? Were overdrafts a factor?
  • Did the bank provide any guidance on alternatives to a bank account? (e.g. second chance, checkless checking, prepaid)
  • What did you do after you were denied? Did you apply for accounts at other banks? If so, were you successful in opening those accounts?

[All participants]

15. Has anyone ever heard of “second chance accounts” at banks and credit unions? Ask participants to raise hands.

  • If so, what do you think a “second chance account” is?

16. Has anyone ever heard of “Bank On” accounts? Ask participants to raise hands.

17. If so, what do you think a “Bank On” account is? Imagine that you knew that you might sometimes have to make purchases that overdraw your checking account, but wanted to avoid being charged fees for doing so. Is there anything you could do?

Conclusion/False Close

18. Is there anything else related to overdrafts or overdraft protection that you would like to share today?

At this point the interviewer will excuse him or herself from the interview in order to ask observers if there are any follow-up questions that should be asked. He or she will then return to the interview, ask any follow-up questions, and conclude the focus group.