Overdraft fees are an increasingly important part of banks' income as they wrestle with little or no loan growth and mounting regulatory expenses.
A recent survey by Moebs Services of more than 2,000 banks, savings and loans, and credit unions said nearly 45 percent have more overdraft income than net income.
And the national median for overdraft fees moved $1 higher, to $26, in the past year, the survey said.
Local industry officials said the recession and higher regulation costs are making it difficult for banks to grow their income.
So they are turning to the fees they charge for services from treasury management to overdrafts.
"It kind of serves as a balance," said Rick LeCompte, a finance professor at Wichita State University. "Interest rates fluctuate. Loan quality fluctuates. And loan losses fluctuate.
"It (fees) becomes a more stable part of their income flow."
LeCompte said the importance of fees to a bank's overall income has steadily increased over the past 25 years.
"It's an item where management has more control," he said.
Banks shouldn't be viewed as greedy for relying more on fees, LeCompte said.
"People who have an overdraft have chosen to inflict a fee on themselves," he said.
Brad Elliott, chief executive of Equity Bank, said his $440 million bank has not increased its overdraft fees "at this point."
But it's probably only a matter of time before Elliott and other banks raise overdraft and other fees.
One reason is rising Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. assessments, which have hit banks hard.
The assessments are being used to replenish the FDIC's deposit insurance fund, which has been drained by 84 bank failures this year.
Elliott said in the first nine months of 2008, Equity paid $104,000 in assessments. This year, that figure is $629,000.
"It takes a lot of $30 overdraft fees to get there," he said. "Banks are going to have to pass on that expense."
The assessments and other regulations are squeezing banks' margins, LeCompte said.
"The more regulations that are put on the banks, I think the more we're going to see... the trend going up on fees," LeCompte said.