UNDATED (CNN) -- An increasing number of Americans are spending money they don't have.
A new study shows overdraft is making a comeback as more and more Americans dip their checking accounts into negative territory.
Bank research firm Moebs services says this past year alone, consumers were hit with more than $31 billion in overdraft fees. That's up sharply from 2011.
Moebs says there are 144 million consumer checking accounts and of that number, about a quarter are frequent overdraft users. The firm points to a few factors for the ballooning figure.
Checks are clearing the bank much faster now so money flows more quickly out of a consumer's account. So people may think they have more time to add funds in, but instead, a check they've written clears overnight and they overdraw.
Rising debit card use is also a reason. In 2011 debit card transactions made up 43% of all payments. Those payments clear even faster than checks, and are harder for a lot of consumers to keep track of.
But some still wonder if the rise in overdrafts isn't the fault of the consumer but rather shady bank practices.
For banks, it's an easy way to make literally billions of dollars. The average overdraft penalty sits at $30 and that can add up.
So how do you avoid getting hit with a fee? Moebs says consumers need to be more informed about their account balances. One way to do that is to set up text and e-mail alerts that notify you when your account is negative.
That way your four dollar coffee won't end up costing you four times as much.