Big Banks, Bigger Fees

Today, we’re releasing a new report, Big Banks, Bigger Fees: A National Survey of Bank Fees. Our staff visited over 350 bank branches around the country to see if they would provide a list of all bank fees as required by the Truth in Savings Act – a law that’s been on the books for 20 years. The law says, if a consumer asks for a list, or schedule, of all fees, the bank has to give it to them. It isn’t that complicated.

Among the findings of Big Banks, Bigger Fees:

  • Only 38% of banks visited provided researchers with fee schedules as required by law on their first request. After two or more requests, eventually a total of 55% complied with the law.
  • In a finding nearly identical to the GAO report, nearly one-quarter of branches (24%) never complied and refused to provide fee information, claimed that they didn’t have it, or told researchers to “go online.”
  • Researchers found a wide variety of free or low-cost checking options, at more than half of branches surveyed.
  • Although the biggest banks have recently tightened requirements to obtain free checking, they have not eliminated it.

It is important today in this tough economy to shop around to get the best deal–the best price on gas, or food, or for the best bank to put your money. If you can save a few hundred dollars a year on avoidable bank fees, that’s money you can use for something else. Check out the report for tips on shopping around for a good bank.

We look forward to July 21, when the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the new consumer cop with only one job, protecting consumers, steps onto the financial beat and starts keeping the banks honest about their fees.

The CFPB will have the power to enforce the Truth In Savings Act, and to require banks to post all fees prominently on the web as well as on paper. We will also urge the CFPB to require banks to make fee disclosures in a clear, tabular format – not buried in cumbersome multi-page brochures.

But the banks don’t want consumers to have their own tough cop. That’s why they’ve launched a relentless Congressional campaign to weaken the bureau, deny it a strong director and delay its startup date, because the banks like it better when there are no cops on the beat.