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Makin' Money

Read the fine print–not

Chris Farrell Apr 27, 2011

Favorite number of the week: 111 pages is the median length of the checking account disclosures consumers are supposed to read and understand before opening an account at any of the nation’s 10 largest banks. That’s about twice as long as Romeo and Juliet–and infinitely more boring.

The figure comes from a Pew Charitable Trusts report, *Hidden Risks: The Case for Safe and Transparent Checking Accounts*. Since 9 out of 10 Americans have a checking account, it is the most widely used financial services product in the U.S. It’s a safe bet that 99% of us with a checking account haven’t read the disclosure statement. I know I haven’t.

The key part of the report was this: How difficult it’s to comparison shop banking accounts.

Banks do not provide important policies and fee information in a concise and easy-to understand format that allows customers to compare account terms and conditions among banks. Pew’s research showed that the median length of bank disclosures for key checking account policies and fee information was 111 pages. In addition, the banks
often used different names for the same fee or service; put the information in different
documents, different media (Web or hard copy), or different locations in a document; and did not summarize or collect key information anywhere

Consumers would put pressure on banks to lower fees if the information available made it easy to compare prices.

Pew offers a graphic illustrating the main points.

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