1 Checking Out How Big Banks are Pushing Consumers Out of Basic Bank Accounts Andrea Luquetta California Reinvestment Coalition September Facebook.com/calreinvest Twitter.com/ calreinvest
2 Executive Summary Wells Fargo, Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Citibank, and US Bank are making it too hard for the average Californian to afford basic banking services. California household income, like most of America, has shrunk since the banks nearly brought down the nation s economy in Unlike the top banks, the average household did not receive a tremendous federal bail-out. Yet the banks that did now charge households that are struggling to make ends meet as much as $144 a year just to access basic banking services. The banks assert the higher prices are necessary due to Dodd-Frank and other reforms aimed at curbing overdraft excesses and limiting the fees that banks charge merchants for accepting debit and credit cards known as interchange fees. However, the reductions in overdraft and interchange fee revenue have not brought down corporate profits, which are higher now than before the regulations were adopted. In fact, banks made over $61.6 billion in profits in the first six months after the interchange limits took effect. The banks are raising account costs knowing that doing so will push customers struggling households out of full service bank accounts. That is because the banks would rather steer those customers into prepaid cards. The banks have an incentive to do so because prepaid cards are exempt from recently enacted interchange fee limits. However, prepaid cards are part of a secondary tier of limited service financial products. They provide extremely limited functionality at high prices. They do not have the consumer protections available to bank issued debit cards. They do not provide the opportunities that bank account holders get to participate and advance economically. Households that are pushed out of bank accounts lose their ability to fully participate in the financial mainstream. Bank accounts, not prepaid cards, are universally recognized assets. They provide a longterm financial identity as important to accessing quality financial opportunities as a person s medical history is to receiving quality health care. Bank accounts are heavily regulated and protected by laws that guarantee federal deposit insurance, rights to price and fee disclosures, guarantees of availability of funds after deposit, and the right to have electronic transactions errors swiftly corrected. The California Reinvestment Coalition believes that every California household should have access to an affordable, full service bank account. We have designed the SafeMoney account as a model for what large banks and others should provide. A SafeMoney TM account would provide a debit card, bill pay, money orders, and remittances. It excludes overdrafts. It provides customers with accurate balance information to make money management reliable. And unlike prepaid cards, it provides maximum consumer protections from liability for theft, fraud or unauthorized use. We call on the largest banks to lead, return the service provided them by taxpayers, and invest in the profitability of the average household by offering the SafeMoney account.
3 Table of Contents Introduction: Big Banks Are Pricing Californians Out of Basic Bank Accounts... 3 Banks Have Raised Basic Banking Costs... 2 Overdraft & Other Fees are Increasingly Difficult to Avoid... 3 Raising Account Prices Is Not Justified When Bank Profits Are Soaring... 5 Bank Executives Take Home Millions While Californians Struggle to Make Ends Meet... 7 Banks Know that Higher Costs and Fees Squeeze Out the Customers They Don t Want... 8 The Banks Want to Shift Customers Into Buying Prepaid Cards... 9 Banks Should Offer the SafeMoney Account: A Full Service, Affordable Bank Account that Meets Consumer Needs Conclusion California Reinvestment Coalition advocates for the right of low-income communities and communities of color to have fair and equal access to banking and other financial services. CRC has a membership of nearly 300 nonprofit organizations and public agencies across the state.
4 Introduction: Big Banks Are Pricing Californians Out of Basic Bank Accounts The country s top banks are making basic bank accounts too expensive for the average Californian consumer. The incomes of most American households have shrunk since 2008 but they now have to pay higher prices for bank accounts offered by the very same banks that were bailed out with tax dollars. The banks say higher prices are necessary because the 2010 Dodd Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act limits how much they can charge merchants for processing card payments, known as interchange fees. They also blame the reduction in overdraft fee revenue since the Federal Reserve Board changed Electronic Funds Transfer Act regulations in 2009 by requiring that banks first ask their customers if they want to opt in to overdraft services. These claims ignore the fact that profits at the biggest banks are now higher than they were before the banking system meltdown five years ago. In fact, profits are continuing to grow even after these financial reform regulations were enacted. A bank account is the most basic building block of an individual s financial identity. A bank account holder owns the funds in their account, their account history and the protections that having an account provides. The typical bank account is open for many years and provides a long-term financial identity that is necessary and important to meaningful participation in the economy. It is an asset that is immediately recognized by everyone, including employers, lenders, government agencies and all other institutions that require information about a person s financial history and well-being. Bank accounts are also heavily regulated and protected by laws that protect a slew of consumer rights. These protections include federal deposit insurance, rights to price and fee disclosures, guarantees of availability of funds after deposit, and the right to have electronic transactions errors swiftly corrected. These factors help to explain why bank accounts are so strongly positively correlated with higher, more stable income and wealth, sustainable spending habits, and economic advancement through homeownership, entrepreneurship, and education. However, over the last few years, banks have increased the number and cost of fees for basic accounts. Banks now charge as much as $144 a year, plus overdraft and insufficient funds fees, for a basic bank account package that includes a debit card, bill pay, monthly mailed statements, and access to branches. Fee waivers are available to the relatively few people who can maintain a cash balance of $1,500 or more, have their income electronically deposited, or have multiple financial relationships with the bank such as a mortgage, credit card or investment account. There are no such waivers for average Californians that stretch their dollars to meet basic household needs and do not have an extra $1,500 sitting in their accounts every month or who work at a small business that does not have direct deposit. The higher account prices are harming Californians and most Americans who continue to struggle financially, including middle income and fully-employed households. Every demographic group in California- White, Hispanic, Black, Asian, Immigrant and Native-born- has seen their median income fall up to 25 percent since the recession; the average decline is more than 11 percent across California. 1 Today, for the first time in history, less than half of all California households can now be considered middle income, down from 60% in
5 These households cannot afford the higher cost of bank accounts and are being pushed out of the financial mainstream and down to a secondary tier of limited service financial products such as prepaid cards. These products offer the ability to conduct very basic transactions, such as paying for groceries and other goods and services. However, they do not provide the full set of protections and economic opportunities that bank accounts provide to consumers. Every California household should have access to an affordable, full service bank account. Households that are struggling with insufficient income or family financial responsibilities, in particular, need more than second-class financial instruments that limit their ability to fully participate in the economy. The California Reinvestment Coalition has designed the SafeMoney account to serve as a model account for what large banks and other institutions should provide to consumers. Banks Have Raised Basic Banking Costs Over the last few years, as communities struggle to recover from the financial crisis, banks have started increasing the number and amount of fees on basic bank accounts. The minimum cost of a basic bank account at the five largest banks in California is now between $84 and $144 a year unless a customer can meet extremely high thresholds to qualify for fee waivers. In addition, banks are taking advantage of loopholes in regulations to extract as many fees as possible. The Cost of Bank Accounts and the (Difficult) Ways to Avoid Them Total Balance Needed to Waive Monthly Cost (between one or more accounts) Direct Deposit Needed to Waive Monthly Cost Other Ways to Avoid Account Monthly Cost Monthly Cost Must conduct all banking Bank of America No direct electronically, do not get "ebanking" No balance waiver deposit waiver mailed statements and do $8.95 available available not use branch services Bank of America "MyAccess" $12.00 $1, $ None Keep a $5,000 combined balance in linked Chase deposits/investments, OR pay "Total Checking" $25 in qualifying checkingrelated $10.00 $1, $ services or fees At least one direct deposit Citibank per month PLUS "Basic Checking" one qualifying $10.00 $1, bill pay None US Bank $6.95 / $8.95 with "Easy Checking" mailed statements $1, $ None $7 / $9 Wells Fargo with mailed "Value Checking" statements $1, $ None 2
6 Citibank now charges $10 for Basic Checking account holders unless they maintain a combined $1,500 balance or have both direct deposit and use the bank s bill pay system at least once a month. 3 Chase charges $10 a month for its most basic Total Checking account. Customers can avoid the $10 monthly charge by maintaining a $1,500 balance in the account (or $5,000 in combined deposits and investments), by having at least $500 directly deposited monthly, or if they pay more than $25 in checking account related fees in a month. 4 Bank of America s MyAccess account will cost a customer $12 a month unless she has at least $250 directly deposited in the account every month or maintains a $1,500 balance. 5 A lower cost option is the ebanking account which costs $8.95 a month, a fee that is waived every month that the customer does not use branch services or receive a paper statement. Wells Fargo s Value Checking account costs $9 unless the customer maintains a $1,500 minimum balance or has at least $500 directly deposited into her account. 6 If the customer agrees to get only electronic, rather than paper statements, the fee drops to $7 a month. US Bank similarly charges $8.95 for its Easy Checking account, or $6.95 with electronic statements, and the monthly cost is waived with at least $500 in direct deposits or a $1,500 in a minimum balance. 7 With these kinds of barriers and thresholds, people are struggling to pay for the basic cost of their accounts. Overdraft & Other Fees are Increasingly Difficult to Avoid Overdraft fees continue to be a problem for struggling households. Banks are now required to ask customers whether they want the bank to accept, rather than decline purchases that would overdraw the account. A customer that opts in to have overdrafts accepted will pay about $35 for each transaction that exceeds her balance. She will also be charged an extended overdraft fee of about the same amount if she is not able to deposit enough money to bring the account positive by the fifth day after the overdraft. That means that a single overdraft can cost a customer $70, in addition to the cost of the purchase, depending on how long the account is overdrawn. Even though most customers would prefer that a transaction be declined if there is not enough money, banks are making it difficult for customers Banks are trying to extract fees from most customers, even the most careful money manager. to understand that they have that option. 8 However, even customers that clearly assert that they do not opt in will still face fees. Customers may mistakenly believe that a bank s overdraft protection program will shield them from overdrafts when the opposite is true. Overdraft protection simply uses money from the customer s other accounts to cover the costs of purchases that exceed the amount of money in a checking account. For this protection the banks will typically charge $10 to $12 for each transaction. Overdraft fees can still be charged on electronic payments, also known as ACH, electronic checks, e-checks, or direct debits because they are exempt from overdraft regulations. 9 People often authorize direct debits for recurring bills, like mortgage, utility and cell phone bills, as well as for single 3
7 transactions. 10 Banks will pay direct debits that exceed the customers balance, and charge an overdraft fee, even if the customer has not opted for overdraft. Customers will also face bounced check fees because these are also not covered by overdraft rules. 11 Insufficient funds fees or NSF are becoming harder to avoid now that checks can be processed as electronic funds transfers and deposited via digital images at the ATM and through smart phone applications. The length of time that it can take for a check to clear varies; it can be instantaneous or it can take as long as it takes for the recipient to go to the bank and deposit it. 12 Failure to have sufficient funds in the account, or losing track of checks that haven t cleared and spending that money elsewhere, could result in NSF fees of $35 per check. Many customers will face overdraft or insufficient funds fees because banks manipulate how purchases are debited from account balances. Most customers would prefer that each purchase be deducted in chronological order. Thus, a customer with $100 in her account who makes a $10 purchase in the morning, a $15 purchase in the afternoon and a $90 purchase in the evening will face, at most, one overdraft fee. Chronological processing gives consumers a better chance of keeping track of their spending and knowing when and how many overdraft fees they will face. But several big banks prefer to deduct the biggest of each day's transactions first, i.e., first deducting the evening s $90 purchase, then the $15 and finally the $10. Doing it that way ensures the bank two overdraft fees, rather than one. This practice of reordering transactions from high to low pushes people without high account balances more quickly into overdraft territory and imposes many more overdraft fees than a customer would reasonably expect. Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, and Wells Fargo all do it despite being hit with several class action lawsuits. Citibank, Wells Fargo and Chase have said that they will process A.T.M. withdrawals, debit card purchases and online bills chronologically, in the order received, unless for some reason time of the transaction is not available. In that case, they will process them in order of lowest to highest value. 13 The way that banks process debit card signature purchases can also lead to overdraft fees. Debit card purchases that are signed for, like credit card purchases, The complicated rules that customers must follow to avoid bank fees: 1. Keep at least $1,500 in the bank that is never spent or can be immediately replaced, OR work at one of the relatively few businesses that pay with direct deposit or receive public assistance from a program that does. 2. Clearly tell the bank to decline debit card purchases that exceed the money in your account. 3. Budget purchases and bill payments as though they will be deducted from your account in order of largest to smallest, rather than in the order that you makes them. 4. Always use a PIN for debit card purchases. Sign for a debit card purchase only when you are sure there will be enough money in the account to cover them and all other purchases for the next several days. 5. Only authorize electronic payments ( ACH, e-checks or direct debits ) that can be paid when funds are available on the business day before the payment is due. 6. Never write checks unless you will maintain sufficient funds in the account to cover them as well as all other purchases made until the check has showed up as cleared on their bank statement. 4
8 can take days to show up in the account balance while debit card purchases made with a PIN are subtracted almost immediately from a customer s balance. Banks do not often disclose this information and neither does the private, largely unregulated industry trade group called the Electronic Payments Association that sets the rules for how payments are processed. 14 Raising Account Prices Is Not Justified When Bank Profits Are Soaring Bank profits are the highest they have been in five years. 15 Between them, the five big banks have higher profits now than before the recession. 16 Even Bank of America and Citibank which lost revenue in 2009 and 2010 due to the financial crisis, have rebounded. Despite this growth, banks have opposed and continue to complain about new regulations on overdraft fees and services, and limits to the amount they charge merchants, known as interchange fees, on the basis that they cut fee revenue. The banks have then used the loss of this fee revenue to justify increasing the cost of basic account services. 17 ($700 Billion Bailout) The argument that regulation has cost banks heavily and that raising the price of consumer services is necessary to support profits does not hold water for several reasons. First, the fees affected by the overdraft and interchange regulations have not been historically necessary as a source of revenue for banks. Prior to 1999, relatively few banks regularly allowed, much less charged customers a fee for purchases that overdrafted account balances. The practice took off only after automated software made it easy to do. Then, overdraft fee revenue doubled in ten years from $18 billion to over $37 billion from 1999 to 2009, becoming the banks most profitable revenue source. Similarly, interchange fee revenue grew only as recently as the use of debit and credit cards became more prominent than checks for retail purchases. These fees were once primarily used to cover the costs of processing credit cards before technology made both the availability of cards and processing card transactions much cheaper. After technology lowered the cost of processing, the fees have largely been used to cover the cost of rewards programs like airlines miles, hotel points, and cash back. Second, while the regulations have caused both overdraft and interchange fee revenue to fall, this fall in revenue has not caused a fall in profits. The overdraft regulation that took effect in 2010 has cut into the amount of fee revenue collected by the banks. In the first year after its implementation, the banks collectively lost approximately $6.5 billion in overdraft fee revenue. Similarly, the limit on interchange fees took effect in October of 2011, and in the last quarter of 2011, the top five banks lost about $9.8 billion in interchange revenue. 18 But in those same three months, the same banks made profits of over 5
9 $12.5 billion. 19 And those profits continued to grow despite continued loss of interchange revenue: in the following quarter, January to March of 2012, the top five banks netted over $14.5 billion. 20 In fact, bank profits are now higher than before the financial crisis, exceeding $51 billion in is how profits break down for each of the biggest banks since 2009, a year after the bailout: Here JPMorgan Chase led the way growing from $11.73 billion in profits in 2009 to $17.37 billion in 2010, to $19 billion in Bank of America posted $1.4 billion profit in 2011, a rebound from 2010 when they posted a loss of $2.2 billion, and less than the $6.27 billion they netted in Wells Fargo profits grew from $12.27 billion in 2009 to $12.37 billion in 2010 to $15.9 billion in Citibank went from losing $1.6 billion in 2009 to profiting $10.6 billion in 2010 and $11 billion in U.S. Bank s profits grew from $2.2 billion in 2009 to $3.3 billion in 2010 to $4.8 billion in Banks have made far more in profits than they have lost in fee revenue. Providing basic account services is NOT hurting their bottom line. Banking Industry Profits vs. Lost Overdraft Revenue Profits for 2011: $51 billion Overdraft revenue lost in 2011: $6.5 billion Third, the large banks should not isolate the profitability of the most basic consumer services from overall profitability. It was the large banks-- led by Citibank-- that argued ardently that dismantling the Glass-Steagall separations between financial services would create economies of scale that would benefit consumers. 27 reversal of that promise, the banks now use their massive size to justify price increases. Fourth, banks claim that consumer bank accounts are extremely expensive. One frequently repeated estimate is that it costs big banks $250 to $450 a year to provide basic account services. 28 Far less repeated is the estimate that banks collect about $270 in revenue from these accounts. 29 No one has provided a clear breakdown of either estimate though some concede that fixed overhead, including executive salaries, corporate-wide security and legal compliance, account for at least 20% of the cost to provide accounts. 30 Taking out those fixed costs would reduce the difference between what it costs to provide bank accounts versus what they bring in terms of revenue. Fifth, the idea that price increases are necessary to account for profitability ignores the possibility of reducing fixed or marginal costs without sacrificing quality of service. Perhaps this is because institutions that have been bailed out as Too Big to Fail have less incentive to be competitive in the ways that benefit consumers. With the assurance that the federal government will not allow them to fail, the In a 6
10 shareholders desire for profit can be distinguished from and should not be prioritized over the consumers need for value. The result is that even with enormous profits that are far larger than the loss in fee revenue, the large banks feel free to complain that they cannot provide basic banking services without significantly raising prices. Rather than using their size, multiple revenue streams and multiple business operations to reduce costs to We don t want to raise fees on our customers, a Chase spokesman has said. But unfortunately, regulation is forcing us to do it. And as a result, some customers may end up unbanked. As Banks Raise Fees, You Have options, NY Times, January 14, 2011 consumers, they are now seeking to extract from consumers the cost of regulations meant to protect them. By some estimates, the goal is to raise fee revenue by as much as $15 to $20 a month from every depositor. 31 Bank Executives Take Home Millions While Californians Struggle to Make Ends Meet The bottom line is that most Californians simply cannot afford the higher cost of banking. The $84 to $144 price of entry is out of reach for even median income households no matter how hard they work, never mind the fees that the banks hope to extract from overdraft programs and insufficient funds. These costs add to the burden of households that are already short of funds. For example, an adult with a school age child (attending public school) making the median income in Sacramento County, which was $35,426 in 2010, still needs an additional $3,000 to cover basic housing and other living costs. 32 In Fresno County, that household will need about $10,000 more than Californians need affordable, full service banking accounts that help them to make ends meet, not make it more difficult. median income to make ends meet. 33 In San Bernardino County, the shortfall is more than $10, In Los Angeles County, it s more than $17, While households in California have yet to recover from losing income due to falling salaries and wages, record rates of unemployment and unemployment duration, the top executives at the big banks have done quite well since the recession. The five people who comprise the executive leadership at JPMorgan Chase took home $77 million as their annual compensation in The seven top executives at Wells Fargo took home $72.4 million. 37 Citibank s five top executives took home $57.9 million Bank of America s six top executives earned $43.34 million. 39 And at U.S. Bank, the five top executives took home $32.77 million last year. 40 Unlike the bank executives, few Californians can maintain an extra $1,500 in the bank to avoid higher costs and fees on their bank accounts. The economic crisis left the median American family in 2010 with no more wealth than in the early 1990s, wiping away two decades of gains. 41 Two of every five Americans are now living paycheck to paycheck. 42 Many households hold few or no assets or emergency 7
11 funds and are precariously vulnerable to ordinary financial shocks, such as unanticipated major car repair, large copayment on a medical expense, sudden legal expenses, or an emergency home repair. 43 About one quarter feel certain they could not come up with $2,000 in 30 days, and another twenty percent say they could only do so by pawning or selling possessions or taking a payday loan. 44 Even solidly middle class families report being pessimistic about their ability to face a financial shock of this size. 45 Middle-income jobs have been replaced by low-income jobs, which now make up 41% of total employment. 46 Unemployment is higher in California than in the rest of the country and the number of California families earning less than poverty wages has grown by half. 47 Even white collar and college educated workers have seen their wages grow substantially slower. 48 The other way that banks offer a fee waiver is to have income directly deposited into their accounts. This is also challenging for many Californians. There is little data available about how many employers offer direct deposit. However, according to major payroll companies the cost of a basic payroll plan starts at $200 with an additional $1.45 fee per every paycheck that is direct deposited. 49 In California, that can be a high cost for the over 90% of businesses that have less than 20 employees and employ over 30% of workers. 50 In addition, more Californians work in jobs with lower pay and limited hours and that are less likely to offer direct deposit, such as retail grocery and clothing stores, restaurants and food preparation jobs, than in office and administrative support jobs where direct deposit is more common. 51 Perhaps the only group of Californians with dependable access to direct deposit are the over 85% of Social Security retirement and supplemental income program recipients that receive payments electronically. 52 While these customers may have access to basic fee waivers, they may lose those savings through overdraft and other fee generating schemes adopted by the banks. Already, people over 55 pay more than $6.2 billion annually in overdraft fees. 53 And both Wells Fargo and US Bank make unconscionably priced short term loans that mirror payday loans to direct deposit recipients of government assistance. Banks Know that Higher Costs and Fees Squeeze Out the Customers They Don t Want The higher account prices are pushing customers who cannot afford them out of the banks. Mike Moebs of Moebs $ervices Inc., an oft-quoted industry analyst, thought Bank of America was consciously trying to drive away about a million customers who could not afford or were alienated by the proposed and then abandoned $5 debit card fee. 54 Moebs has opined that with the new fees, banks are trying to keep everybody they are making money with and try[ing] to shed everybody else." 55 How the banks reacted to last year s Bank Transfer movement also shows that banks are happily shedding customers. By some estimates, over 5.6 million people switched banks in the three months after Bank Transfer Day, some 610,000 citing that particular effort as the reason. 56 However, analysts at the Wall Street Journal and other major media outlets agreed that generally, the big banks were crying all the way to bank about the consumers who were closing their accounts. 8
12 For example, the Christian Science Monitor ran a story with the revealing headline Why Bank Transfer Day Actually Helped Banks. In it, popular investing advisors at The Motley Fool pointed to the irony of consumers wishing to teach banks a lesson while those very banks actually wanted to get rid of the customers from whom they could no longer extract as much overdraft revenue. 57 In another aptly named article, Why Big Banks Aren t Sweating Bank Transfer Day, a Reuters analyst spelled out even more clearly: the big banks don t particularly want all those retail-deposit funds fee income is shrinking now [so] those banks won t shed many tears if those customers go off to a credit union instead. 58 This isn t to say that the banks are not concerned about the negative popular opinion. A recent poll showed that 11% of consumers are thinking of switching their primary financial institution in the coming year; those consumers are worth about $675 billion in assets. 59 But what the banks have done and what they haven t done is revealing. The banks have invested and increased marketing of technology-based services such as mobile banking through smart phone and tablet applications, mobile wallet services that allow consumers to pay for products by linking a smart phone to their debit or credit cards, easier to use feedback channels to lodge complaints and suggestion, and easier to read disclosures based on the model by well-respected think tank, Pew Charitable Trusts. 60 By and large, however, banks have not stopped practices that lead to overdraft fees, like ordering transactions from high to low. Three-fourths of people surveyed said they would prefer to have a transaction declined if there isn t enough money in their account, rather than having it processed The banks have responded to customer need for lower costs with everything but lower costs. for a fee. 61 Yet, Bank of America and Citibank are the only institutions that don t overdraft customers for debit card purchases. 62 Unfortunately, Bank of America does overdraft for ATM withdrawals and charges a $35 fee. The banks also have not offered the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) Model Safe Account product, despite the agency s urging. The FDIC study about the Model Safe Account pilot revealed that these low fee, no frills accounts had no more losses, fraud or cost to the banks than higher end accounts. 63 Citibank participated in the successful FDIC pilot and continues to offer the account on a limited basis. It has not publicly promoted the account s existence in California, or waged a campaign to inform consumers in California that they can sign up for it. 64 The Banks Want to Shift Customers Into Buying Prepaid Cards Perhaps the most concerning response of the banks to consumer complaints has been to develop and market their own prepaid cards as alternatives to individual bank accounts. Originally marketed by nonbank entities like Green Dot, media moguls like Russell Simmons, and large stores like WalMart, prepaid cards grew in popularity among households that did not have or preferred not to use bank accounts, at least in part because of high and unpredictable overdraft and insufficient funds fees. Prepaid card companies pool their customers funds into bank accounts owned by the company, not the 9
13 customers. The company then administers customer records, adding and deducting to a customer s account as she spends and adds money. Unlike debit card signature payments that can take days to be reflected in a customer s account balance, all transactions on prepaid cards are immediately reflected. Until recently, few prepaid card programs allowed overdrafts, but that has started to change too. Before the recent fee regulations, most banks were content to play the supporting role in the prepaid industry and acted as the prepaid companies banks rather than as direct competitors. That arrangement worked well for both entities. The banks had the luxury of dealing only with the large, pooled funds rather than individual accounts with lots of transactions and low balances. The prepaid companies focused on generating their own fee revenue by instituting numerous, high and confusing fees for hard to avoid customer activities such as adding money to the account, inquiring about account balances, and even making purchases. More recently all five large national banks, Chase, Wells Fargo, Citibank, Bank of America and U.S. Bank have created their own prepaid card programs. 65 Wells Fargo, US Bank and Chase offer consumers prepaid cards that they can buy directly from the bank and that work exactly like their nonbank competitors products. All By selling prepaid spending cards, the banks avoid providing full service bank accounts while being able to charge higher interchange fees. five banks provide prepaid card services to employers or government programs that want to reduce or eliminate the expenses associated with issuing and processing paper checks. Employees and government benefit recipients can both receive their wages or benefits on the cards and then use them as they would other Visa or MasterCard branded prepaid cards for everyday purchases and recurring payments. By launching their own prepaid services, the banks have simply cut out the middle man, becoming both the owner of the pooled accounts and program manager responsible for customer service. As a result, they have the advantage of handling fewer but much larger deposit accounts, often at the request of employers and governments that, by virtue of their economic power, can deliver hundreds of thousands of prepaid card participants. The banks also gain significant fee revenue because prepaid cards are exempt from the new interchange fee laws that limit how much banks can charge merchants for accepting them. That means that the banks win in two ways by pushing customers into prepaid spending accounts: one, they reduce their own costs by administering limited service, pooled accounts rather than full service, directly owned accounts, and two, they get to charge merchants more for processing purchases made through the cards. This is a win-win situation for the banks, but not for consumers. Prepaid cards are limited service products. They do little more than allow the customer to spend money. A typical prepaid card is active for six months or less, a small fraction of the longevity seen with a consumer checking account. 66 Unlike bank accounts, prepaid cards do not provide the customer with the opportunity to build a universally recognized, persistent financial identity. And though many prepaid 10
14 card buyers are those who have been blacklisted from opening bank accounts through ChexSystems-- a company that furnishes bank complaints about customers successful use of a prepaid card does not fix a person s negative ChexSystems report. Prepaid spending accounts are also expensive. Bank-sponsored prepaid cards tend to have fewer and lower fees than their nonbank competitors cards. However, most bank prepaid consumers still have to pay card purchase fees, fees to load the card if she doesn t have a bank account with the bank or if she makes deposits from an account at another bank, monthly maintenance fees. There are also fees for common services such as getting monthly paper statements, talking to a live customer service representative more than a few times a month, and using a bank teller to make cash withdrawals. Other downsides include the lack of consumer protections that the law provides prepaid card users if the card is stolen or used by an unauthorized person. Debit cards that are tied directly to bank accounts are covered by laws that do not apply to prepaid cards. The Electronic Funds Transfer Act, which is implemented through Regulation E, provide bank issued debit card users with protection against liability due to loss, theft, and unauthorized charges; the ability to dispute errors; the right to account information, including transaction history and balances; fair disclosure of terms and conditions and fees; and, protection from overdraft programs imposed without consumer consent. Prepaid spending card users are not protected by Regulation E. 68 With a bank account, a customer has a permanent and easily available record of her income, transactions and fees. She can, at any time, review her own transaction history, account for fees, and identity any unauthorized charges or present these records as proof of income, basis for tax returns, to contest a tax audit, or to look for a record of payment. At most banks, she can also easily transfer funds from accounts to build savings through basic saving accounts, short and long term certificates of deposit, and other instruments that, like her bank account, will be universally recognized in value. Banks Should Offer the SafeMoney Account: A Full Service, Affordable Bank Account that Meets Consumer Needs What consumers need from banks are safe and affordable ways to save money, make purchases, pay bills, and build financial histories that can someday be leveraged into greater financial capacity. Households that are stretching every paycheck need payment options that meet their cash flow and money management needs. To that end, CRC has developed the SafeMoney model account. The SafeMoney model account is designed to meet the needs of households that are struggling to make ends meet. It excludes overdraft fees. It provides customers with accurate balance information to make money management reliable. It provides core and preferred payment methods. And unlike prepaid cards, it provides maximum consumer protections from liability for theft, fraud or unauthorized use. All for an affordable price with no surprise fees. To qualify as a SafeMoney account, the account must be easy to open. Banks must accept all government IDs, foreign or domestic, that provide the consumer s name, picture, address, date of birth 11
15 and government issued identification number. 1 There should be no minimum deposit to open, particularly for consumers who rely on government assistance such as unemployment, Social Security retirement, disability or similar programs. There should be no requirement to have a minimum balance or to have direct deposit. The account must also provide common payment methods that also reduce the possibility of overdraft. This includes debit cards, money orders, bill pay and remittances. Debit cards, particularly those with Visa and MasterCard brands, and ACH or direct debit payments are increasingly preferred and relied on as payment methods. Over 80% of consumers have adopted debit cards and direct debit and use them far more than checks or cash to make retail purchases. 69 This trend is getting stronger; even among consumers who use different forms of payment including debit cards, credit cards, electronic bill pay, cash and checks, are increasingly relying on the cards and electronic payments for major monthly or recurring household bills. 70 Both banks and consumers will save on costs because the account does not offer checks. Banks will save on the cost of processing checks and consumers will save by completely eliminating the possibility of bounced check fees. Money orders should be offered at low prices that are competitive with those offered by retailers. Over 81% of households who have bank accounts- - but find that they don t meet their needs-- buy money orders. 71 Bank issued cashier s checks cost A SafeMoney account will provide all of the services that typical households need with none of the risks of overdraft fees. several times more and are far less recognized by recipients than the typical money order available at the post office, convenience stores, and most check cashing stores. Money orders allow consumers to pay entities that are not easily payable with cards for both recurring expenses, like rent, and irregular but necessary expenses, like school activities. Money orders also make money management easier- like spending cash, purchase of a money order makes those funds immediately unavailable for other purchases, eliminating the risk of losing track of which dollars have been committed but not spent. Bill pay services are also important. Nonbank financial services providers, such as most corner check cashers, have long provided these services at high fees without much competition, particularly for consumers that do not have bank accounts. Banks should adopt and improve on the practice of checkcashing stores to provide easy bill pay options in the branch, via kiosk, online, phone or another technology. Using electronic funds transfer, banks can even provide same day payment for common payment recipients in industries where the number of service providers is small, such as utility companies and major cell phone companies. 1 The widespread practice of accepting only U.S. issued driver s licenses or state identification cards to open an account is major barrier for many consumers. Banks justify this by pointing to federal Know Your Customer laws designed to stem bank fraud, money laundering and financial support for terrorist activities. However, Know Your Customer requires only that the consumer provide an identification issued by a recognized government (not only the U.S.) that provides the consumer s name, photo, address, date of birth and a verifiable government issued identification number. The reliance on driver s licenses and state IDs has much more to do with reducing banks personnel training and record keeping costs than compliance with the law. 12
16 Banks and other companies that process debit card payments should make use of available technology to immediately adjust customer balances after transactions rather than delaying for a few days or deducting transactions at the end of the day in a different order than they were made. Currently, when customers use a PIN number with their debit card or use a prepaid card, their balance is almost immediately adjusted to reflect the purchase. By contrast, a purchase made with a debit card and a signature can take days to show up. From the consumer s perspective, there should be no difference between when debit card purchases made via signature or PIN debit are deducted from her account given that she pays both directly from funds in the account. Similarly, consumers should be able to accurately and consistently predict when a pre-authorized direct debit will be deducted from their account and paid to the recipient, even for payments due over the weekend or on a holiday, and whether they will be paid before or after other transactions made that day. In keeping with the preference of most consumers, the account should offer no overdraft loans through the account. Debit card purchases, ATM withdrawals, pre-authorized payments and all other types of transactions A SafeMoney account includes a debit card, money orders, bill pay and remittances so that customers can do all of their financial transactions through one account. should be declined if there is not enough money in the account to cover them. Insufficient funds fees should be far less than $35 per denied transaction. Remittances, the ability to send money to family and friends, within and outside the United States, is another core need for many consumers, particularly in urban labor centers or other places that people travel to for better paying jobs. While many banks have begun to make it easier for customers to send money, this service should come standard in every basic banking package. Some banks have already started to partner with third-party peer to peer payment services like PayPal, ZashPay and others to allow consumers to send money within the United States via , mobile phone and between accounts. Bank of America, Wells Fargo and JPMorgan Chase customers will soon be able to make P2P payments to each other with a new service called clearxchange that the three big banks just recently rolled out. 72 Whether money is sent via , cell phone, account to account, or another way, all of the senders and receivers rights should be clearly posted and understandable. There also should be no unreasonable delays between when the send intends the money to be deducted from her account, when the funds are actually deducted and when the recipient receives payment. 13
17 SafeMoney vs. Big Bank Accounts and Prepaid Cards Conclusion Banks have been raising the cost of basic banking under the guise of promoting relationship banking, i.e., rewarding customers that bring multiple business opportunities to the same banks. That strategy effectively excludes hundreds of thousands of households that have lost income and savings since the banking industry precipitated the worst financial crisis in the country in nearly a century. These same working households have borne the brunt of the mortgage crisis, the bailout of the banking industry, and the fall in wages and equity that has followed. They are stretching paychecks and cannot afford to pay up to $144 to just have account access, plus overdraft or insufficient funds fees that they cannot reasonably avoid under a system of inconsistent rules, loopholes and account manipulation. 14 SafeMoney Bank Account Big Bank Basic Accounts* Popular Prepaid Cards* Minimum Opening Deposit $0 $100 $10 Monthly Account Fee $3 $12 $2.50 Minimum Balance to Waive Monthly Fee $0 $1,500 $0 Monthly Direct Deposit to Waive Monthly Fee $0 $100 $0 U.S. or Foreign Government Photo ID to Open an Account ChexSystems History Ok Optional and Free Direct Deposit Debit Card with PIN and Signature Features Pay Bills Online or by Phone Low Cost Money Orders Send Money Domestically and Internationally Clear Information about Balances and Purchases Free Money Management and Savings Tips Consumer Protection from Theft and Unauthorized Use Common Sense Overdraft Limits Overdraft and Insufficient Funds Fees for Debit, Checks and Electronic Payments $0 $35 per item/ up to $140 per day $15 per item when available Fee to Check your Balance at the ATM or Phone $0 $0 $1.00 In-Network ATM Fee $0 $0 $2.00 Fee to Pay with Debit Card PIN or Signature $0 $0 $1.00 * Generalized for comparison purposes, individual bank and prepaid programs will vary
18 Wells Fargo, Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Citibank, and US Bank should invest in the average household, not push them out of the financial mainstream and towards prepaid cards. The banks do not have to rely on fee income from bank accounts for profits. They have earned billions of dollars in profits since the curbs on fees took effect. Rather than creating second-class limited service products designed to exploit gaps in fee regulations, banks should offer full service bank accounts at an affordable price. Such accounts should provide easy to use and reliable ways to pay bills and everyday purchases. Like all bank accounts, they should provide a universally recognizable financial identity that can help provide access quality financing for larger household needs. The California Reinvestment Coalition has designed the SafeMoney account to meet these needs. We call on the largest banks to lead in the recovery of California households financial health by offering the SafeMoney account throughout the state. By doing so, the banks will be investing in the long-term profitability of the average consumer rather than merely the few who, like bank CEOs and other top executives, have regained what they lost through the financial crisis. Sources 1 The Great Recession and Distribution of Income in California, Public Policy Institute of California Id. 3 Citibank Client Manual Consumer Accounts 4 Chase Total Checking Guide 5 Bank of America Personal Schedule of Fees 6 Wells Fargo Consumer Account Fee & Information Schedule and Direct Deposit Advance 7 US Bank Consumer Pricing Addendum 8 Overdraft America: Confusion and Concerns about Bank Practices, Pew Center on the States May CFR 205.3(b)(2) 10 Measuring the Costs of Retail Payment Methods, Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City CFR 205.3(b)(2) 12 Getting Rid of Paper: Savings from Check 21, Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia May Citi Changing Check Process, NY Times April 9, Bank Profits are Highest in Nearly 5 Years, CNN Money May 24,
19 16 Annual reports, see notes 22 through Checking Account Wars, Behind the Scenes, NY Times October 7, Here Are The Banks That Lost The Most Under The Durbin Amendment, Forbes August 8, FDIC: Bank Profits at Highest Level Since 2007, Wall Street Journal, May 24, 2012; The Unrepentant and Unreformed Bankers, San Francisco Chronicle, August 8, JPMorgan Chase & Co Annual Report 23 Bank of America 2011 Financial Review 24 Wells Fargo 2011 Annual Report 25 Citi 2011 Annual Report 26 US Bancorp 2011 Annual Report 27 Ex-Citigroup CEO Weill: Time to Break Up the 'Too Big to Fail' Banks, Reuters July 26, Free Checking Isn't Cheap for Banks, American Banker December 9, Banks Ditch Mom and Pop, Wall Street Journal July 31, Free Checking Isn't Cheap for Banks, American Banker, December 9, As Big Banks Raise Fees, You Have Options, NY Times January 14, California State Franchise Board 2010 Incomes; Self-Sufficiency Calculator by Insight Center for Community Economic Development 33 Self-Sufficiency Calculator by Insight Center for Community Economic Development 34 Id. 35 Id. 36 JPMorgan Chase 2012 Proxy Statement 37 Wells Fargo 2012 Proxy Statement 38 Citibank 2012 Proxy Statement 39 Bank of America 2012 Proxy Statement 40 US Bank 2012 Proxy Statement 41 Lost in Recession, Toll on Underemployed and Underpaid, NY Times June 18, Many Families Struggle to Make Ends Meet, But Those With a Financial Plan Feel and Do Better, Consumer Federation of America, July 23, Financially Fragile Households: Evidence and Implications, National Bureau of Economic Research, May Id. 45 Id. 46 McDonalds Turns Away More Applicants than Harvard, RT May California Incomes Plummet, Wall Street Journal August 16, 2012; California Incomes Plummet, Poverty Rises, Sacramento Bee, September 14, Lost in Recession, Toll on Underemployed and Underpaid, NY Times June 18, Intuit Payroll Solutions 50 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 51 Id. 52 Social Security Administration, Beneficiaries Social Security Direct Deposit and Check Statistics 53 Center for Responsible Lending 54 Debit Fee or No, Megabanks Must Ditch Unprofitable Customers, American Banker, October 31, Big Bank Weighs Fee Revamp, Wall Street Journal, March 1, Big Banks Confront the Ghosts of Bank Transfer Day, American Banker, August 4, Why Bank Transfer Day Actually Helped Banks, Christian Science Monitor, November 7, Why the Big Banks Aren t Sweating Bank Transfer Day, Reuters, November 1, Big Banks Confront the Ghosts of Bank Transfer Day, American Banker August 4, Overdraft America: Confusion and Concerns about Bank Practices, Pew Center on the States May Id. 62 Chase Cuts Overdraft Fees as Part of Class-Action Settlement, American Banker June 26, FDIC Model Safe Account Pilot, Final Report, April
20 64 Are Safe Accounts the Answer to Our Consumer Banking Problems? TIME, August 6, Banks Enter the World of Prepaid Debit Cards, The Inquirer, August 05, Prepaid Cards Are Fast-Living, Hard-to-Peg Animals, American Banker August 7, Bank Customers - You're Being Tracked, CNN Money August 16, CFR Adopting, Using, and Discarding Paper and Electronic Payment Instruments: Variation by Age and Race, Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, May Id. 71 FDIC National Survey of Unbanked and Underbanked Households, December Wells, B of A and JPM Look to Shake Up P-to-P Payments, American Banker, May 25,
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