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WAFF investigates: What are your rights when it comes to bank fees?

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HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF) -

Signing up for a checking or savings account is fairly easy. Walk into a bank or credit union, deposit money, answer a few questions, and leave. But a recent trend in banking fees is making it more difficult to hold onto that hard earned cash. But are financial institutions following the law when it comes to those fees?

According to the 1991 Truth in Savings Act, financial institutions are required to disclose all account related fees to prospective customers. If they don't tell you all of their fees they're breaking the law.

Over a four hour period, we visited ten banks and credit unions in Huntsville. Once inside, we asked about opening up a checking account, and asked what kind of fees were associated with an account. Sound simple? It wasn't.

At Wells Fargo, they told me there's no fees attached to a checking account, but then quickly said only under certain circumstances. They didn't give me anything in writing, as required. I walked out with no pamphlets and very little information on fees. According to the Truth in Savings Act, that is a direct violation. 

After this occurred, Stephen Norris, Wells Fargo area president made the following statement:

"Our policy is to provide written disclosures when requested.  In this case, that did not happen and we apologize.  We are reminding team members of our policy."

I sat down with an employee at PNC Bank for more than 20 minutes. The employee asked me for personal information. She handed me a leaflet with information on one of their banking programs, but never gave me a list of fees after I requested them multiple times.

"Banks are required by law and they're supposed to have a schedule of all of their fees," said Ed Mierzwinski. He is the federal consumer program director for the United States Public Interest Research Group. "They're supposed to give [the list of fees] to any who asks for them."

Mierzwinski's organization did a larger scale study than ours. U.S. PIRG found fewer than half of the branches obeyed their legal duty.

"If banks don't give you the information you need to shop around, you're a captive customer," said Mierzwinski.

And shop around we did, with good results. Within seconds, I was out the door with a full list of all fees from Redstone Federal Credit Union, two different CB&S branches, BB&T Bank, and one BBVA Compass Bank.

But the more banks we checked, the more issues we found. Remember, banks are required to provide the information in writing on first request. It was a different story at a second BBVA Compass Bank. I had to ask multiple times before I was given any list. The entire process took around 10 minutes.

Alabama Credit Union explained a few of their fees and then handed me a business card. They told me to talk to a different employee at a later time. They also gave me a pamphlet on their accounts.

So what are your rights? Mierzwinski said anyone who encounters a financial institution breaking the law needs to report it to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. They're ultimately the ones who enforce the law. Mierzwinski fears some banks will continue to make their own rules and violate federal mandate.

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