Today’s Money Stuff describes large charges for electricity auto-withdrawn from customer’s accounts:
Last week there was a brief surprising spike in the spot price of electricity in Texas… Prices went from something like $20 per megawatt-hour in early February to something like $9,000 last week…
[A customer of an electric company] and her husband, Doug Robinson, 42, used less energy in February than they did the prior month. Still, their bill, typically around $100 a month, was more than $6,500 in 17 days. Because Griddy is connected to customers’ credit or debit cards to make automatic withdrawals, her credit card bill is now more than $2,500 — which she cannot afford to pay. She canceled her card before she could face more charges.
I called my bank (US Bank) to see if they could put in a rule to protect my account for this kind of thing, for example, allow no auto-withdrawals over $1,000 dollars. The guy on the phone said no—they could set up after-the-fact alerts about large withdrawals, but nothing for before the horse is out of the barn.
My question: what are some ways to defend myself against this kind of large surprise withdrawal? I like the convenience of auto-paying, and would like to keep as much of that convenience as possible, but it looks like I will have to sacrifice some of it. I would have never guessed, if I lived in Texas, that I might be at the kind of financial risk described above, so I am looking for a method that doesn’t require me to know a lot about what specific thing might be about to incur a large charge.