The Electronic Funds Transfer Act, also known as the EFT Act or Regulation E, is a piece of 1978 United States legislation aimed at clarifying the rights and liabilities of those involved in the transfer of electronic funds, including consumers. It was passed by Congress with the expressed purpose of clarifying rights and liabilities that were determined to be unclear under the consumer protection legislation that was in force at the time. Thus, although the rights and liabilities of all who transfer electronic funds are touched on, protection of the rights of individual consumers was the focus of the Electronic Funds Transfer Act.
Within the EFT Act, transactions that are originated with a check, a draft, or any other type of paper instrument are not considered. Instead, the focus is on transactions that originate through a telephonic device, an electronic terminal, or a computer or magnetic tape; for example, an automated teller machine (ATM) transaction, a point-of-sale transfer, a telephone transfer, or a direct deposit or withdrawal. The type of transaction considered is one that authorizes, instructs, or orders a financial institution to credit or debit an account.
Some of the mandates of the Electronic Funds Transfer Act are of clear benefit to the consumer. For example, the notice requirements state that any fees associated with a transaction must be prominently and conspicuously displayed on or by an automated teller machine prior to the moment at which the consumer makes an irrevocable commitment to completing the transaction. Any fees not disclosed in this manner are prohibited.
For electronic fund transfers in which a consumer’s account is involved, the EFT Act states that the terms and conditions must be disclosed to the consumer when the service is contracted. In addition, the disclosures must be written in comprehensible language and include information such as contact information in the event of an unauthorized fund transfer, the right to stop payment on a preauthorized electronic fund transfer and how to do this, and charges for electronic fund transfer services. Any change in terms by the consumer’s financial institution must be conveyed to the consumer in writing a minimum of 21 days prior to the effective date of the change. Financial institutions are also required to document electronic fund transfers for consumers with periodic statements. The statements must include fees and consumer’s balances at the beginning and end of the period in question.
Preauthorization of electronic fund transfers from a consumer’s account may only be authorized by a consumer in writing, according to the Electronic Funds Transfer Act. The consumer may stop payment on a preauthorized electronic fund transfer either orally or in writing. The limitation is that notification of a stop must be provided at least three business days prior to the date on which the transfer is scheduled. The financial institution may require a confirming written authorization following upon an oral notification, in which case it must inform the consumer of the requirement and where to send the written notification in order to comply with it.
The Electronic Funds Transfer Act also provides a protocol for error resolution and limits the liability of consumers for unauthorized transfers. It clarifies the liability of financial institutions in the case in which they fail to make properly set-up electron funds transfers without an extenuating reason or through failure to credit a deposit, or failure to stop payment when properly requested to do so. It also details situations, such as acts of God, in which the financial institution is not liable.