Study: Less Than 40% Of Bank Branches Willing To Openly Disclose Account Fees To Customers

In spite of legislation requiring banks to disclose all fees associated with consumer deposit accounts, a new study from the Public Interest Research Group shows that only around four out of 10 bank branches don’t make it difficult or impossible for consumers to see the full schedule of fees.Additionally, banks are reluctant to let customers know about the availability of free checking accounts.

For six months, PIRG sent people to 392 bank branches in 21 states and found:

1) Fewer than half (38%) of branches complied easily with the simple researcher request for fee schedules required by the Truth In Savings Act; only after two or more requests did a total of 55% percent of branches provide fee schedules as requested and as required by law. In a finding virtually identical to GAO’s results, nearly one-quarter (23%) of branches surveyed refused to comply at all. Others provided often weighty piles of useless other brochures.

2) Despite the difficulty in obtaining full fee information, we found that free checking was available at half the banks visited (50%) and that an additional 29% 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. While some big banks have raised fees and restricted or eliminated free checking, some still provide it, especially with a regular direct deposit.

PIRG is suggesting to the newly formed Consumer Financial Protection Bureau that the Truth In Savings Act be extended to the Internet, where banks should be required to post fees in a searchable web format.

Additionally, PIRG recommends that “the most important savings and checking disclosures required by the Act be provided prominently in a tabular format, such as the ‘Schumer Box’ required for credit card disclosures.”

Since banks are so hesitant to be transparent about fees, the organization says consumers should review their bank statements and count their fees.

“Examine how many fees you pay. Shop around. Look for better accounts. Bank at a credit union, not at a bank,” reads a statement from PIRG on the results of its study. “Credit unions are member-owned, lower-cost alternatives to banks and often offer the same variety of services. It is easier to qualify for membership than most consumers think.”

Big Banks, Bigger Fees: A National Survey of Bank Fees and Fee Disclosure Policies [PIRG]