December 27, 2010

State financial regulators: watch your checking accounts for new fees

Jefferson City, Mo. - Officials at the state agency that regulates banks and credit unions in Missouri say consumers should watch their account statements closely - they may notice fees for services that used to be free. The Missouri Department of Insurance, Financial Institutions and Professional Registration (DIFP) is getting an increased number of questions from Missourians about unfamiliar fees on their accounts.

A recent survey by found that 65 percent of checking accounts are now free, compared with 76 percent a year ago. That reverses a trend: that number had been growing since 2003.

Due to recent federal regulations, banks and credit unions may have a more difficult time collecting fees from consumers when they overdraw on their accounts. To make up for that lost revenue, they may resort to charging new fees on accounts that have traditionally been free. The DIFP says consumers are reporting fees for account inactivity, balance transfers, ATM transactions, low balances and monthly account maintenance fees.

"Consumers across the country are seeing new fees on accounts, but they should not let these fees take them by surprise," said department Director John M. Huff. "Fortunately, the banking and credit union business is competitive, so consumers should ask about fees and shop around if they're not happy with what they find out."

Huff advises consumers:

  • Watch your account statements, either online or by mail, for fees.
  • Read your account holder agreement, which includes your terms and conditions and is provided when you open an account. To request another copy, contact your financial institution.
  • Watch for notices from your bank or credit union about new fees. These notices may come through the mail, e-mail or in your monthly statement.
  • If you get your account statement by mail, don't ignore stuffers in the envelope. A document called "notice of change in terms and conditions" could be included.
  • If you see unfamiliar fees on your account statement, contact your bank or credit union for an explanation.

Consumers who have questions or complaints against a bank can contact the Missouri Division of Finance at or 573-751-3242; for credit unions, contact the Missouri Division of Credit Unions at or 573-751-3419. Both divisions regulate state-chartered institutions. If a complaint is against a nationally charted institution, consumers will be directed to the appropriate federal agency.