Chase clarifies checking account fees

Chase and two other banks unveil a new three-page checking account guide. Experts hope a new era of simplified disclosure will follow.

The Pulse is up today on news that you may one day actually understand how your checking account works.

Today Chase Bank, North Carolina State Employees’ Credit Union, and Pentagon Federal Credit Union all voluntarily unrolled a new three-page form explaining in non-legalese what fees you’re being charged and why for their most popular checking accounts.

The move is an attempt to clarify the murky world of bank transaction fees, which have risen dramatically in recent years as banks try to make up for lost lending revenue. Instead of transparency on the issue, most banks have instead opted to blind customers with a snowstorm of paperwork, fine print and lawyer-speak nearly impossible to negotiate for average folks.

In fact, a recent Pew study found the average length of checking account disclosure documents is a desk-shaking 111 pages. Seriously. Still wondering why bankers are the only people less popular than Congress?

Pew hopes the newly created Consumer Financial Protection Bureau will flex some muscle by adopting and enforcing a standardized disclosure document for banks and credit unions, similar to FDA’s labeling of nutritional information on food.

The surprise here is that Chase volunteered to use the simplified disclosure document. One would hope their motivation was to do the right thing for consumers, though it’s likely they’ve calculated that regulations are destined to come down the pike, and by getting ahead of them, they may just repair their image and steal some market share at the same time.

From today’s announcement on Pewtrusts.org:

“Important policies and fee information are often hidden in long, highly technical banking literature, according to Pew’s research of more than 250 checking accounts offered online by the nation’s 10 largest banks. The median length of disclosure documents is 111 pages and includes account agreements, addendums, fee schedules, and pages on the banks’ Web sites.”

About the author

Joel Patterson is the Associate Producer of Marketplace Money.

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