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CFPB Issues Guidance to Halt Large Banks from Charging Illegal Junk Fees for Basic Customer Service

Advisory opinion provides guidance on 2010 legal provision regarding customer service by large financial firms

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) issued an advisory opinion regarding a provision enacted by Congress which generally prohibits large banks and credit unions from imposing unreasonable obstacles on customers, such as charging excessive fees, for basic information about their own accounts. Under a 2010 federal law, large banks and credit unions must provide complete and accurate account information when requested by accountholders. As many large banks shift away from a relationship banking model that prioritizes high levels of customer service, today’s advisory opinion clarifies that people are entitled to get the basic information they need without having to pay junk fees.

“While small relationship banks pride themselves on customer service, many large banks erect obstacle courses and impose junk fees to answer basic questions,” said CFPB Director Rohit Chopra. “While the biggest banks have abandoned the relationship banking model, federal law still requires them to answer certain customer inquiries completely, accurately, and in a timely manner.”

In the run up to the 2008 financial crisis, large banks, along with other financial institutions, failed to ensure consumers had access to full details about their accounts. As millions of homeowners struggled to pay their mortgages, many were unable to even determine which companies held their loans. When Congress instituted financial reforms in the Consumer Financial Protection Act, it included a provision in Section 1034(c) requiring large banks and credit unions – those with more than $10 billion in assets – to provide account information that is in their control or possession, when it is requested by customers.

When large financial institutions charge fees to respond to those requests, they impede customers from obtaining the essential information they are entitled to under federal law. From its market monitoring and the public’s comments about large banks’ customer service, the CFPB is aware that some large banks charge customers for basic information that is critical to fix problems with their bank account or to manage their finances.

Banks give many different names to these fees. Today’s guidance explains how the CFPB will administer the legal requirement for large banks when it comes to customer service, including how the CFPB will evaluate fees imposed on customers for making reasonable requests, such as seeking original account agreements or information about recurring withdrawals from an account.

Read today’s advisory opinion, Consumer Financial Protection Act; Consumer Account Information.

The CFPB does not intend to seek monetary relief for potential violations of Section 1034(c) that occur prior to February 1, 2024.

The CFPB has been pursuing a number of initiatives to preserve relationship banking in the United States and to ensure that consumers can obtain adequate customer service. Earlier this year, the CFPB published an analysis on financial institution use of customer service chatbots powered by artificial intelligence.

Consumers can submit complaints about junk fees and about financial products and services by visiting the CFPB’s website or by calling (855) 411-CFPB (2372).

Employees who believe their companies have violated federal consumer financial protection laws, including by charging consumers unlawful fees, are encouraged to send information about what they know to whistleblower@cfpb.gov. To learn more about reporting potential industry misconduct, visit the CFPB’s website.

Read today's related press release, CFPB Exams Return $140 Million to Consumers Hit by Illegal Junk Fees in Banking, Auto Loans, and Remittances.

Read Prepared Remarks of CFPB Director Rohit Chopra on a Press Call on Junk Fees.

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The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is a 21st century agency that implements and enforces Federal consumer financial law and ensures that markets for consumer financial products are fair, transparent, and competitive. For more information, visit www.consumerfinance.gov.