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Do you know what bank fees you're paying?

A fight over money

Tess Vigeland: You know, you've heard that your bank is probably charging you all kinds of new fees these days, in part to make up for the ones they're no longer allowed to charge. But do you know exactly what you're paying for the privilege of banking?

This week, the U.S. Public Interest Research Group reported that banks are continuing to hide many of those fees from their customers. Mitch Lipka covered the story for Reuters and is here with the details. Welcome to the show.

Mitch Lipka: Thanks for having me.

Vigeland: So banks aren't as forthcoming as they should be about fees. Bowl me over with a feather.

Lipka: Yeah, it's the kind of thing where I don't think it's a shock that it's not that way. It's more a matter of what it ought to be, and I think that's more surprising. I think there ought to be a way that you can comparison shop to find the different fees that different banks are charging. And right now, it's one of the few places where consumers can't actually compare apples-to-apples in an easy way. But they're supposed to be able to.

Vigeland: Right. And basically what this study found is, not only are you not able to compare fees easily, but you can't even find the fees on the accounts that you already have.

Lipka: Yeah, it's a challenge no matter how you look at it. And that's not blanket. There are some banks that do it completely above board. It's more a matter of when you look across the entire board, it's really quite a challenge.

Vigeland: So what does the law say about how easy it should be for us to figure out what we're being charged to put our money in a bank?

Lipka: You're supposed to be able to ask for it and get it. Just that simple. And one of the things in the survey that they found out, there was only a four in 10 chance that you are actually going to get it on that first request.

Vigeland: You know, aside from asking for transparency in these fees, the Public Interest Research Group also noted that banks are still trying to get consumers to do things like opt-in to overdraft protection, and it's something that they want stopped. Why is this still a problem?

Lipka: Well, I think consumers completely misunderstand the idea of opt-in, opt-out. The banks did a really good job of selling to consumers the idea that you can opt-in into something that was somehow gonna be a benefit. Opting in means that you will benefit from them getting your money if you commit an overdraft. In my mind, there's no good to come of for opting in.

Vigeland: You know, this is one of those things that has come up since all the legislation last year that had to do with consumer protections. And I think there's this sense that no matter how many consumer protections are passed -- credit card reform, financial reform -- banks are gonna find a way around it. It really is this game of wack-a-mole, isn't it?

Lipka: Absolutely. I mean, it's no great surprise that's the game. It's really just a matter of how you position yourself as a consumer to try to not get caught up in that game. Banks are not the only ones who do this. I mean, whenever there's a law, there's an entire team of people who's job is to do nothing but find the loopholes in the law. You just need to watch out for yourself, and in this particular case with banks and credit card companies, you need to look at your statements and see, is there any new surprises there? If you don't like what's going on and how you're treated, take your business some place else.

Vigeland: Do a little homework.

Lipka: Exactly.

Vigeland: Mitch Lipka is a consumer columnist for Reuters. Thank you so much for coming in.

Lipka: Thanks for having me.

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