Government watchdog Accountable.US released a new report finding the top 20 U.S. banks that are most dependent on junk fees disproportionately target lower-income consumers through their branch locations. In fact, nearly 60 percent of these banks’ 4,200+ branches are set up in counties with poverty rates at or higher than the national poverty rate, while over 76 percent of their branches were in counties with median household income levels less than the national median household income. These banks reported on average 41.7% of their 2021 net incomes from service charges that punish vulnerable consumers.
The report comes as President Biden called on Congress to pass the Junk Fee Prevention Act during his State of the Union address, and following the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s introduction this month of a proposed rule cracking down on credit card late fees.
Make no mistake: these twenty banks would still be profitable without nickel and diming low-income families under this exploitative ‘junk fee’ practice. Our research demonstrates an intentional and predatory practice of setting up in low-income communities and charging exorbitant fees. Meanwhile, billions of dollars are being siphoned from the economy, money that could be otherwise spent on goods and services to create jobs rather than pad the bottom line of greedy banks. The Biden administration’s first major step towards junking junk fees is a win-win for working families and the economy.”
Accountable.US’ Director of Economic Security and Corporate Power, Liz Zelnick
Among the banks profiled in Accountable.US’ review is Regions Bank which was recently ordered by the CFPB to pay $191 million for ‘illegal surprise overdraft fees’, dubbing the bank a ‘repeat offender.’ Accountable.US found Regions Bank had almost half of its branches in lower-income counties and made 26% of its net income from junk fees in 2021.
The financial industry has been desperate to spin abusive and excessive junk fees as a necessary fact of life that somehow ‘saves consumers money.’ The reality is that overdraft programs cost consumers billions each year and heavily benefit banks and their shareholders. Meanwhile, as the Biden administration and CFPB are ramping up actions to curb and refund overdraft fees, big business groups, like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, have been frantically trying to weaken the agency’s rulemaking power by filing a lawsuit to reverse its new crackdown on discriminatory practices.