Let's make it easy to compare checking account fees

Pen pointing to bank statement

Wouldn't it be great if you could shop for a checking account as easily as you shop for other consumer goods? You know, apples to apples?

Raj Date thinks so, too. And as the person temporarily leading the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, he's perfectly positioned to help make it happen.

As a first lieutenant under CFPB trailblazer-in-chief Elizabeth Warren, Date (pronounced DAH-tay) oversaw the research, markets and regulatory functions of the consumer watchdog agency. When Date came on board, some bankers viewed him as a potential ally, given his long career with Capital One and Deutsche Bank.

Maybe not so much anymore.

In response to the recent flurry of debit and checking up-charges by America's largest banks, Date casually issued a missive on "the importance of checking account transparency" that the bigs could certainly read as either a threat or a promise.

"This isn't about any one fee from any one bank. The problem is that checking accounts often come with a wide variety of unexpected costs that can quickly add up for consumers," Date says.

To which legions of bankers would reply, "We certainly hope so!"

But as Date continues, their mood sours:

"Different banks charge different fees. Different fees are applied under different terms and conditions. Different banks give different names to the very same fee. So it is no surprise that a recent survey by Pew Charitable Trusts found that nearly three-fourths of Americans with checking accounts support greater clarity and disclosure."

Banker response: "Raj, you been hanging with those Capital One Vikings again?!?"

Date coolly concludes:

“Ideally, consumers would have a simple way to evaluate checking account costs. The CFPB has the ability to simplify checking account disclosures -- an idea that some consumer groups and some banks have already been developing. Making the costs transparent is good for consumers and good for competition. It allows consumers to compare the checking account options from large banks, community banks and credit unions, and pick the one that works best for them."


The CFPB might be realistic about its ability to reduce or eliminate the junk fees, but it's apparently hell-bent to standardize how the industry labels those fees so that consumers can tell the good apples from the bad.

Let's see the big banks dream up a viable reason to oppose that long-overdue reform.

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