Bank at Wells Fargo? Here are 4 things you should do soon

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - BUSINESS - By Joseph Pisani

NEW YORK >> At­ten­tion, Wells Fargo cus­tomers: It’s time to sit down and make sure no funny busi­ness went on with your ac­counts.

Wells Fargo, which has been fined $185 mil­lion by reg­u­la­tors who said bank em­ploy­ees opened mil­lions of unau­tho­rized ac­counts to meet sales goals, has promised to con­tact all cus­tomers and in­vite them to re­view their ac­counts.

But don’t wait around for a phone call.

“You must be proac­tive,” said Pamela Banks, the se­nior pol­icy coun­sel at the non­profit ad­vo­cate Con­sumers Union. That means go­ing through sev­eral years of state­ments, credit re­ports and ac­counts on your own.

Af­ter re­view­ing more than 90 mil­lion ac­counts, Wells Fargo said more than 2 mil­lion bank and credit card ac­counts may have not been au­tho­rized.

Any unau­tho­rized ac­counts may have racked up fees. And credit card ac­counts opened in your name may af­fect your credit score, the all-im­por­tant num­ber that de­ter­mines what kind of in­ter­est rate len­ders will charge you for a home or car loan.

Wells Fargo has been or­dered by the Con­sumer Fi­nan­cial Pro­tec­tion Bureau to re­fund cus­tomers go­ing back to 2011, and the com­pany said it has al­ready given back $2.6 mil­lion in fees for prod­ucts that were sold with­out au­tho­riza­tion.

Here’s what all Wells Fargo cus­tomers should do:

1. Check your ac­counts

Call Wells Fargo, or head to a nearby branch, and ask to re­view all ac­counts opened in your name. You can also do this on­line if you’ve set up on­line bank­ing for your Wells Fargo ac­counts. If there is any is­sue, let the bank know quickly. Make sure to go through your ac­count his­tory care­fully for at least the last five years. Look for any un­usual trans­ac­tions or fees, since em­ploy­ees were trans­fer­ring money be­tween ac­counts with­out per­mis­sion from cus­tomers, ac­cord­ing to the CFPB. If you didn’t get a re­fund you feel you de­serve, re­port the is­sue to the CFPB on its web­site , or call 855-411-2372.

If you have a pri­vate stu­dent loan from Wells Fargo, scru­ti­nize those state­ments as well, said Banks. In Au­gust, the CFPB finedWells Fargo $3.6 mil­lion for charg­ing its stu­dent loan cus­tomers il­le­gal fees, not cor­rect­ing er­rors on credit re­ports and other vi­o­la­tions.

2. Scour credit re­ports

Ev­ery­one should check their credit re­ports at least once a year. But if you haven’t been do­ing that, now is the time, es­pe­cially if you’re a Wells Fargo cus­tomer. You can get free credit re­ports once ev­ery 12 months from each of the ma­jor re­port­ing agen­cies — Equifax, Ex­pe­rian, Tran­sUnion — at An­nu­alCred­itRe­port.com.

The re­ports list all your cred­i­tors, so re­view them for any unau­tho­rized credit cards that may have been opened or un­paid fees that may have been re­ported to the credit agen­cies. You should also look for in­quiries made by Wells Fargo for new credit cards. Those in­quiries stay on credit re­ports for 24 months and can slightly hurt credit scores for 12 months, said John Ulzheimer, who used to work at a credit bureau and is now pres­i­dent of The Ulzheimer Group, a credit con­sult­ing firm.

If you spot any Wells Fargo-re­lated prob­lems on your credit re­ports, ask the bank and the credit agen­cies to fix them.

3. Think be­fore clos­ing credit card ac­counts

Ac­cord­ing to the bank, Wells Fargo em­ploy­ees ap­plied for about 565,000 credit cards that con­sumers may not have au­tho­rized. Wells Fargo said it will con­tact those peo­ple to see if they want to keep the credit card ac­counts open.

Your im­me­di­ate re­ac­tion may be to just close such an ac­count, but a credit card ac­count that was opened and never used may have ac­tu­ally helped your credit score, said Ulzheimer. That’s be­cause hav­ing more un­used credit avail­able boosts a credit score — and so clos­ing that ac­count may hurt it. Higher credit scores can mean paying lower in­ter­est rates, so if you plan to ap­ply for a mort­gage or an­other loan soon, it may be best to keep it open un­til then, said Ulzheimer.

Bank ac­counts, how­ever, have no ef­fect on credit scores, so those can be closed.

4. Con­sider ditch­ing Wells Fargo

The scan­dal is a good ex­cuse to shop for other banks, said Ken Tu­min, founder and ed­i­tor of bank com­par­i­son site De­positAc­counts.com . “This shows you that loy­alty doesn’t buy you any­thing,” he said. Re­search other banks and credit unions — you might find that they are of­fer­ing lower fees or paying higher in­ter­est rates, Tu­min said.

Go­ing for­ward, Wells Fargo said it has re­formed its prac­tices so the is­sue will not re­cur. Among the changes: It will au­to­mat­i­cally email or send a let­ter to cus­tomers when an ac­count is opened or a credit card ap­pli­ca­tion is filled out. The bank also said it will end its sales quota sys­tem at year’s end.

THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Cus­tomers walk into a Wells Fargo bank in Pem­broke Pines, Fla.

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