Banks Play Hide and Seek with Fees

Banks are still hiding their fees from consumers, even the fees mandated by the Truth in Savings Act, says a new study by U.S. Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG). That’s why one of the study’s key recommendations is to “bank at a credit union, not a bank.”

The study found that of more than 392 bank branches surveyed in 21 states, fewer than half obeyed the law in fully disclosing their fees to prospective customers. One in four of banks surveyed provided no fee information at all, said U.S. PIRG. The group also reviewed bank fees online at 12 other banks, said its report, “Big Banks, Bigger Fees: A National Survey of Bank Fees and Fee Disclosure Policies.”

Among the key findings:

  • Fewer than half (38%) of the banks complied easily with a researcher request for fee schedules required by the Truth in Savings Act. Only after two or more requests did 55% of the branches provide fee schedules. Nearly one-fourth (23%) refused to comply with the request. Other banks provided “often weighty piles of useless other brochures.”
  • Free checking was available at half the banks, and 29% more offered free checking with direct deposit. “The free accounts are widely available at small and regional banks and credit unions, a finding that has also been obtained by others,” said the report.

U.S.PIRG also made these recommendations for consumers:

  • Review bank statements and count the fees, especially ATM surcharges and “off-us” fees when making transactions at another bank’s ATM.
  • Examine how many fees you pay and shop around. “Look for better accounts. Bank at a credit union, not at a bank. Credit unions are member-owned, lower-cost alternatives to banks and often offer the same variety of service. It’s easier to qualify for membership than most consumers think.”

U.S. PIRG, which is a non-profit, non-partisan public interest advocacy organization, also urged the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to extend the TIS Act requirements to the Internet by requiring banks to post fees in a searchable Web format and to post the most important savings and checking disclosures required by the act in tabular format.

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