Almost 17 million Americans don’t have access to a bank account – which can cost them an estimated $40,000 over the course of their lifetimes in high fees for alternative financial products. What’s preventing so many Americans from obtaining checking or savings accounts?

A new report by the National Consumer Law Center (NCLC) and Cities for Financial Empowerment Fund (CFE Fund) is taking a close look at some of the potential causes – specifically, the credit bureaus that over 80% of banks use when deciding whether to open consumer accounts. Two of the most prominent of these credit bureaus are ChexSystems and Early Warning Services.

These credit bureaus collect information about consumers’ banking histories, including negative information such as overdraft history and any incidents of fraud. According to the FDIC, 25% of banks will automatically reject a candidate with negative information on his or her account report.

NCLC and the CFE Fund have several criticisms about these tools and the ways they are used:

To address these problems, in addition to regulatory reforms, NCLC and the CFE Fund advise that:

If you’ve been having trouble opening a bank account, we encourage you to use the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) as a resource for help and information. Click here for a list of specialty credit bureaus, including those that collect banking histories. The document also offers advice on accessing your report from these agencies.

And, if you have a complaint about a bank or financial service, take it to the CFPB! They don’t just take your complaint, but actively work on your behalf to get an answer from the companies involved.

Have you had difficulties opening a bank account? Please take a moment to share your story with us!