Study: 62% of banks fail to disclose fees

Consumers will factor rising fees into their decisions about where to do business -- but they can't if banks and credit unions won't divulge the data, a consumer advocacy group says.

By MSN Money Partner Apr 14, 2011 3:29PM

This post comes from Matt Brownell at partner site MainStreet.


MainStreet on MSN MoneyA new report (.pdf file) from the U.S. Public Interest Research Groups (USPIRG) finds that just 38% of banks and credit unions responded to a request for their fee data, despite a 20-year-old law mandating transparency.


The 1991 Truth in Savings Act requires full disclosure of a bank's fees, including ATM fees and monthly maintenance fees, but when USPIRG researchers requested fee schedules from 391 banks and credit unions in 21 states, just 38% of them disclosed their fees on the first request.


Making multiple requests raised that number to 55%, but 23% of banks flat out refused to disclose their fees and the rest provided insufficient or irrelevant information.  Post continues after video.

What makes this widespread disregard for the law particularly troublesome is that bank fees are on the rise. New financial regulations have prompted many banks to do away with free checking accounts altogether, while fees for ATMs are also increasing. It stands to reason that fees will therefore become a larger factor in a consumer's decision to bank with a given institution, yet more than half the time the banks are not upfront about what they charge.


So what is to be done? Given that researchers' requests were often answered with outdated pamphlets and binders, the organization proposes that the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau extend the stipulations of the Truth in Savings Act to the Internet by requiring banks to post their full fee schedules on their websites.


"The new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has an important opportunity to make markets work better for consumers and good actors in the marketplace," the organization said in a statement. "It should make bank account fee disclosures more transparent by enforcing the current law and improving the law’s disclosure requirements."

In the meantime, consumers interested in knowing their bank's fee schedule should be persistent -- and if that doesn't work, you can always take your business elsewhere.


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