Big banks are raising fees, inventing new fees, and making it harder to avoid fees, while they're also reluctant to reveal to customers the fees attached to checking and savings accounts, according to research by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group.
Approximately six out of 10 bank branches make it difficult to almost impossible for consumers to see their fee schedule, PIRG found. Banks are also not doing such a great job of letting customers know about free checking accounts. The PIRG study was reported by our sister site Consumerist.
When PIRG tried to collect information for their survey from just over 400 banks around the country, almost a fourth refused to comply. Others chose to instead hand over piles of brochure material. In the end, fewer than half of the bank branches complied easily with a request for fee schedules. Under the Truth in Savings Act, banks are required to provide this information. However, only after two or more requests did 55 percent of branches provide fee schedules.
PIRG found that free checking was available at half the banks visited, and that an additional 29 percent offered free checking with direct deposit. Free accounts are widely available at small and regional banks and credit unions. While some big banks have raised fees and restricted or eliminated free checking, some still provide it, especially with regular direct deposits.
A few things consumers can do to stay on top of bank fees:
- Review your statements and count up your fees. Know that in addition to ATM surcharges you might also be paying an “off-us” fee for when you use an out-of-bank ATM.
- After you have handle on the fees you do pay, shop around and look for better accounts.
- Bank at a credit union instead of a bank. Member-owned credit unions can be low-cost alternative to banks, and it could be easier than you think to qualify for membership.