Pew finds tighter checking rules win broad support

July 28, 2011 - 12:29 AM

NEW YORK (AP) — Even those in the U.S. who complain about excessive government regulation say they're in favor of rules that would require banks to clearly disclose the fees they attach to checking accounts, a new survey shows.

A survey from The Pew Charitable Trusts released Thursday found that nearly three-quarters of Americans with checking accounts back rules that would make banks do a better job of disclosing the terms of their accounts.

The study found a favorable view of stricter rules among 81 percent of Democrats, 66 percent of Republicans, 65 percent of independents and 62 percent of Tea Party supporters.

Notably, even those who say they believe there is already too much or the right amount of government regulation supported requiring banks to do a better job about revealing fees and charges.

Some banks do post certain details about their checking-account policies on their websites, but the information they provide is inconsistent and hard to compare, said Susan Weinstock, director of Pew's Safe Checking in the Electronic Age Project, part of the organization's consumer-protection arm.

"No bank has an easy disclosure, so that you can easily go online and get an overview of what they're offering," Weinstock said. "When you shop for groceries, there are food labels. You can check the sodium content on one can peas versus another can of peas. You can't do something similar with something as ubiquitous as a checking account."

Pew designed a model disclosure form that would list monthly fees, ATM fees, returned check fees, overdraft options and other policies.

The organization is calling on the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to press banks into using the one-page form. "The CFPB has the authority to do this now," Weinstock said. "This is something Americans can agree on. They want these reforms."

The study also found broad support for requiring banks to disclose the order in which they process transactions. Many banks process checks and debit withdrawals by dollar amount, from highest to lowest, rather than in the order they take place. That has been shown to increase the number of overdraft fees banks charge customers.

The practice became widespread in the 2000s, and now more than 35 banks across the country are facing class-action lawsuits related to excessive overdraft fees.

The Pew data came from a national survey of 805 checking-account holders conducted July 5 to 10. It has a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points.