GAO report: Hidden bank fees rising

A customer uses an ATM inside the Bank of America building in Chicago.

TEXT OF STORY

TESS VIGELAND: Five bucks here, $2.50 there, pretty soon it adds up to real money that you're paying banks for them to hold your money. By law, they're required to disclose the fees they charge for checking and savings accounts, but a new report from the Government Accountability Office finds that many banks make it difficult for consumers to uncover these fees.

Marketplace's Jeff Tyler reports.


JEFF TYLER: GAO employees posed as consumers. They visited 185 banks, trying to get information about checking and savings account fees. Twenty percent of the time, they failed. That doesn't surprise Bob Sullivan, author of "Gotcha Capitalism."

BOB SULLIVAN: It was impossible even for government investigators to find out what these hidden fees would be. Which means for the average consumer trying to pick a checking account at a bank, they have no tools to decide what the best account is, because all of these fees are really hidden.

Some banks charge for overdrafts. Others charge for paying bills by phone.

SULLIVAN: There's even fees in some banks for walking in and talking to a teller.

On average, fees now account for 27 percent of a bank's revenue, or more. Again, Bob Sullivan.

SULLIVAN: There are individual, smaller banks that have revealed that they make about half of their profits from fees.

But Nessa Feddis, with the American Bankers Association, says most banks are good about disclosures. She faults the GAO employees for talking to tellers instead of speaking with the appropriate person, the new accounts manager.

NESSA FEDDIS: The new accounts representative is usually someplace else, and you do have to make sure you get to them, just as if you're going grocery shopping. You don't go to the produce section if you have questions about the fish.

Feddis says the responsibility rests with consumers.

FEDDIS: The fees are avoidable. Accounts are basically available for free. Consumers don't have to pay anything.

They may not have to, but they do. In 2006, Americans paid over $36 billion in bank fees.

I'm Jeff Tyler for Marketplace.

About the author

Jeff Tyler is a reporter for Marketplace’s Los Angeles bureau, where he reports on issues related to immigration and Latin America.

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