Pew: Regulate banks’ hidden-fee practices

Despite changes in banking regulations, it is still risky for Americans to open checking accounts because of hidden fees, according to a Pew report.

Overdraft fees cost American consumers $29.5 billion in 2011, said the Pew Safe Checking in the Electronic Age Project.

The project recommends that regulatory changes be made by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau or Congress to protect consumers from what it called unfair practices.

“Consumers are expected to wade through long, confusing documents and may be subject to steep, unexpected fees to access their own checking accounts, the cornerstone of household financial management,” said Susan Weinstock, Safe Checking project director. “Consumers must have understandable, transparent information that enables them to make educated choices when comparing one checking account’s costs and benefits to another.”

The key issues uncovered in the report affect nine out of 10 adult Americans who have checking accounts.

The report’s findings are: many banks fail to summarize important fee information in a uniform, concise format to allow customers to comparison-shop; many do not provide account holders with a clear picture of their overdraft options; some overdraft fees have increased since 2010; banks either reorder withdrawals from high to low, or reserve the right to do so, thus maximizing overdraft fees; and all banks restrict customers’ dispute resolution options.

Read the  Pew report.