Transparency? Ha! Big banks still hiding fees

By Paul O’Donnell,

Many big banks still aren’t being upfront about their checking account fees and are even charging more for some basic functions, a new study says.

The study, by Pew Charitable Trusts, says that 12 major banks have shown little progress toward transparency in the past 18 months.

Some fees were not listed at all on bank websites, while others were only available if customers used the websites’ search box, says the study, a follow-up to an April 2011 report.

Even the most common fees, the report charges, are sometimes obscured in long disclosure statements.

“The median length of bank checking account disclosure statements has decreased,” the report says, “but is still cumbersome at 69 pages.”

The battle over banking fees has been building since last fall, when federal regulators capped the amount banks may charge merchants for debit card transactions. In the first quarter of this year, Wells Fargo saw a 32 percent drop in revenue from debit card purchases from the same period in 2011. At the same time, the cost of keeping deposits has gone up, due chiefly to higher premiums paid to the FDIC for deposit insurance.

Banks have looked to checking fees, especially those for using other banks’ ATMs, and for using overdraft protection to make up the loss, pointing out that customers have to pay for checking services somehow.

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