Bank of America agreed to pay approximately $230 million to settle charges levied by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and Treasury Department’s Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) over alleged junk fees, withheld credit card rewards, and the opening of fake accounts.
Bank of America will pay approximately $80.4 million in consumer redress, $60 million to the CFPB for charging junk fees, $30 million to the CFPB for withholding rewards and opening unauthorized accounts, and another $60 million to the OCC regarding its double-dipping fee practices, the CFPB announced in a press release Tuesday.
The bank previously paid about $23 million to consumers who were denied rewards bonuses, the CFPB said.
The details: From September 2018 to February 2022, Bank of America charged $35 overdraft fees when consumers had insufficient funds for a transaction, according to a CFPB consent order.
When some merchants “re-presented” rejected transactions, Bank of America again allegedly charged a $35 overdraft fee, essentially penalizing consumers twice for a single overdraft transaction.
“Overdraft programs should help, not harm, consumers,” said Acting Comptroller of the Currency Michael Hsu in an agency press release. “… We expect banks to conduct their activities in compliance with all applicable laws and standards, and when they don’t, we will act accordingly.”
From January 2012 to February 2021, the bank advertised sign-up bonuses on its website for enrolling in cash rewards cards but did not make it clear rewards were limited to online applications only, the CFPB said in a separate consent order.
In some cases, customers did not receive rewards because Bank of America employees failed to complete the application process, the order stated.
Additionally, the order stated Bank of America employees were evaluated on the number of new accounts opened and used by consumers. Driven by sales pressure and incentives, some Bank of America employees submitted credit card applications and issued cards without consumers’ consent, according to the order—allegations that mirror the infamous Wells Fargo fake accounts scandal.
Bank of America obtained credit reports to consider consumers for new credit cards, even when they had not applied for or expressed interest in the products, the CFPB alleged. As a result, consumers were charged fees, incurred damage to their credit profiles, and lost control over personal information, the agency said.
Compliance considerations: Bank of America must cease all illegal activities alleged by the CFPB and OCC and disclose material limitations on any rewards card bonuses. The bank is also prohibited from charging future repeat overdraft fees.
The bank was also ordered to compensate consumers who incurred costs stemming from the alleged opening of unauthorized accounts and those who were denied card bonuses that have not yet been made whole.
Company response: “We voluntarily reduced overdraft fees and eliminated all non-sufficient fund fees in the first half of 2022,” a Bank of America spokesperson said in an emailed statement. “As a result of these industry-leading changes, revenue from these fees has dropped more than 90 percent.”
The bank neither admitted nor denied the CFPB’s and OCC’s findings.