(Los Angeles Times) Despite recent improvements by the nation’s largest banks, checking accounts are still too confusing for consumers and overdraft fees are too high, according to new findings by the Pew Charitable Trusts. Disclosures for checking accounts are too long, some fees for overdraft protection have increased and many consumers still are forced into binding arbitration to settle disputes with their bank, said the study by Pew’s Safe Checking in the Electronic Age Project. “Consumers are expected to wade through long, confusing documents and may be subject to steep, unexpected fees to access their own checking accounts, the cornerstone of household financial management,” said Susan Weinstock, the project’s director. “Consumers must have understandable, transparent information that enables them to make educated choices when comparing one checking account’s costs and benefits to another,” she said. Pew called on regulators again to force banks to provide better disclosure and make overdraft fees proportional to the banks’ costs. Nessa Feddis, vice president and senior counsel at the American Bankers Assn. trade group, criticized the report, saying many banks were “going the extra mile” to make sure that customers understood fees and disclosures. The study is an update to the Pew project’s 2011 report, “Hidden Risks: The Case for Safe and Transparent Checking Accounts,” which raised alarms about fees and disclosures at the nation’s 10 largest banks.
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