From fees to close accounts and transfer funds to so-called zombie accounts, some banks are making it harder for consumers to leave.
A new report from Consumers Union examined the account policies and practices for the 10 largest retail banks: Bank of America, BB&T, Chase, Citibank, HSBC, PNC, SunTrust, TD Bank, US Bank and Wells Fargo
Consumers Union found that some banks are engaging in a practice it refers to as zombie accounts. This is when some financial institutions reopen a closed account. Chase and Bank of America said they reserve the right to do this if a deposit, credit or debit hits the account, the group discovered. An unaware customer could potentially be hit with a number of fees including overdraft and monthly maintenance on an account that was previously closed.
“The consumer may not even know what has happened, because banks have no obligation to inform the consumer that the account has been reopened,” the report noted.
Three of the banks surveyed (HSBC, PNC and US Bank) charge a $25 fee to close an account that has been open for fewer than 180 days. Two more banks (BB&T and Citi) charge a $25 fee if the account is closed within 90 days.
All of the banks surveyed charged for wire transfers or certified checks with fees ranging from $7 to $10 for a certified check and from $24 to $30 for a wire transfer.
Consumers Union also found that the account disclosures and websites for all of the banks surveyed failed to provide consumers with clear account closing policies. In the fall of 2011, the consumer advocacy group said it sent 16 secret shoppers to the banks’ branches to ask how to close an account. Some shoppers received conflicting information on how to do so.
To give consumers clearer avenues to close an account, Consumers Union said it is calling on Congress and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to consider several policy changes.
Among them, banks should be required to bear the responsibility for transferring a customer’s automatic payments and deposits from the old account to the new account within 14 days. They should also provide same-day electronic fund transfers at no cost to consumers.
The group is also calling for check hold times to be reduced so consumers can quickly access deposits in new accounts. Banks should be prohibited from assessing unfair account closure fees, reopening accounts after consumers close them and clear guidelines, the group said.
Portable bank account numbers to facilitate what it believes will make it easier to switch banks, is another recommendation Consumers Union has pitched to bank regulators.