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MassPIRG hits banks for not providing fee schedules

The Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group found that 3 of 11 banks it visited in Massachusetts refused to provide a copy of their fee schedule upon request.

The Boston consumer group reported this week that Boston Private Bank and Trust, Brookline Bank, and People’s United Bank refused to provide information on its fees in person after being asked several times (though Brookline Bank has the data on its website). A fourth bank, Citibank, only provided partial information after being asked three times.

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MassPIRG noted that banks are required to disclose their fees under the Truth in Savings Act, which was enacted in 1991.

A spokesman for Boston Private, David Thomson, said the bank wasn’t sure why MassPIRG was denied the information. “The bank’s policy is to provide it,” he said. Thomson said the bank also asked MassPIRG which branch the group visited so the bank can correct the issue.

Brookline Bank marketing director Peter Roveto said the bank plans to send out a reminder to employees to provide the fee schedules in the future. “It is an isolated training issue,” Roveto said.

Citibank spokeswoman Catherine Pulley said the company’s fee schedule is posted online and should be available on request over the phone or in branches. She said the bank takes its obligation to provide the information “very seriously.”

The other bank, People’s United, could not be reached for comment.

MassPIRG and other PIRG groups surveyed 250 bank branches in 17 states and the District of Columbia and found that less than half offered consumers a fee schedule on first request.

Even after repeated requests, 12 percent of branches refused to provide the information and another 16 percent only provided partial information.

A similar study in 2008 by the federal Government Accountability Office found that bank staff had trouble obtaining detailed fee information at more than 1 in 5 branches visited across the country.

“It’s really a pain in the neck,” said Deirdre Cummings, legislative director for MassPIRG. “When you can’t get comparative information, it’s harder [for consumers] to make choices.”

MassPIRG also found that most community banks and credit unions still offer free checking, even though many larger banks have tightened requirements for free checking.

In Massachusetts, state-chartered banks are required to offer free checking to people who are 18 or younger or 65 and older.

Todd Wallack can be reached at twallack@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @twallack.
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