Most consumers are aware that they have a credit score and credit report, used by lenders to decide if you represent a borrowing risk.
But did you know that banks and credit unions have their own method of determining if you’re a good prospective customer — or a potential problem? It’s called ChexSystems and it’s a reporting system that tracks your closed checking and savings accounts. Many people who have had a bank account at one point in time will have a ChexSystems report. Accounts stay on ChexSystems for up to five years after closure.
What is ChexSystems and how does it work?
The information ChexSystems tracks is used to create your Fair and Accurate Credit Transaction Act (FACTA) report. Think of this as a sort of banking version of your credit report.
When you apply for a new checking or savings account, the financial institution will often run your ChexSystems report to see if you have any negative marks. These can include overdrawn accounts, negative balances, closed accounts and more.
It takes five years for negative marks to leave your ChexSystem report. However, if you find incorrect information, you can dispute it and ask to have to it removed.
Like a credit report freeze, you can freeze or place a security freeze on your ChexSystems report so no bank or credit union can view it. This could block someone from stealing your identity and opening a new account in your name. It can also make it more difficult for you to open a new checking or savings account. (You’ll need to thaw your report first.)
4 reasons you might be denied for a checking or savings account
#1 Not paying your fees.
When you overdraw your account, the bank will usually charge you a fee. Overdraft fees can be as high as $35 at some banks but the national median is $30, according to the research firm Moebs Services. Even if you’re only overdrawn for one day, you can end up owing significantly more than that if you continue to spend money before you realize the account is overdrawn. It can be difficult to repay these fees, especially if you can’t afford to bring your account current.
However, if you end up closing the account with a negative balance or if the bank decides to close the account for you, ChexSystems will list this on your report. This is one of the most common reasons a bank or credit union will deny your application, since your report reflects that you may struggle to pay your debts.
If you do get a fee on your account, call your bank as soon as possible. Sometimes it’ll waive (or reduce) fees for good customers. At the very least, ignoring the problem won’t make it go away and can cause you to get a negative mark on your ChexSystems report. Usually banks will give you a deadline to pay your fees before closing your account and reporting to ChexSystems.
#2 Overdrafting too many times.
Even if you pay your overdraft fees when you go over your account balance, you can still be denied a new account if ChexSystems shows that you overdraw too often. Doing it too many times can signal that you’re irresponsible and aren’t aware of how much money you have in your account.
Consider setting up safeguards to prevent overdrafting:
- Keep all of your money in one account that you use solely for daily transactions
- Allow your bank to decline purchases if you don’t have enough available funds (which may mean declining to enroll in overdraft protection).
- Speaking of which, we highly recommend you use caution with overdraft protection. With this service, banks will allow transactions to go through even if you have insufficient funds, but they will almost always hit you with overdraft fees at the same time.
- Avoid using checks, which may be cashed at a later date.
- Set up bank alerts so you’re notified if your balance dips below a certain amount, such as $50.
#3 Committing fraud
It’s one thing to write a check for $100 and assume you have $100 in your bank account, only to have that check bounce. But it’s quite another to write a check knowing that you don’t have the funds in your account. That constitutes fraud and is a serious offense, sometimes resulting in criminal action. Other types of fraud include opening an account with someone else’s information, and trying to write a check to yourself from another person’s account.
#4 Bouncing checks
A bounced check is when you write a check for an amount that you don’t currently have in your account. When the recipient tries to deposit the check, the bank will reject it and charge you a fee for nonsufficient funds.
Too many bounced checks and it’ll show up in your ChexSystems report; that could cause you to be denied for a new account. Bouncing checks makes it seem like you’re not on top of your finances, especially if it continues to happen over a long period of time.
How to get your free ChexSystems report
To get your free ChexSystem report, go to www.chexsystems.com and click on “free FACTA report”. As with a credit report, you’re legally entitled to one free copy of your report every 12 months.
However, unlike with your credit report, which you can access online after answering a series of questions, you have to wait for your ChexSystems report to be sent to you through by mail. You should receive the report within five business days after submitting your application.
You know how people have both credit reports and credit scores? Well, consumers also have ChexSystems reports and ChexSystems scores. You may request your ChexSystems Consumer Score by mailing or faxing this form. It can take up to 15 business days to get your score back. Scores range from 100 to 899. The closer you are to 899, the better you look to potential banks.
Disputing and reporting errors
To dispute and report errors in your ChexSystems report, you may submit a form via this website, by fax at 602-659-2197, or by mail at the following address:
Attn: Consumer Relations
7805 Hudson Road, Suite 100
Woodbury, MN 55125
ChexSystems recommends you include the following information when you submit your dispute:
- Full name
- Social Security number
- Current and mailing address
- Consumer ID number if available
Also, identify the information being disputed and provide the specific nature of your dispute
It usually takes 30 days for the investigation to be finalized, and the results will be mailed to you.
Alternatives to checking accounts
If you’ve had a hard time keeping track of bank accounts in the past and your ChexSystems report is a less-than-spotless one, you may have trouble qualifying for a traditional bank account
Unfortunately, that leaves you in a precarious position. There are many ways to get around not having a traditional checking account, but many of those options can be time-consuming and loaded with fees that can eat away at your earnings.
“A bad ChexSystems report can mean paying more for banking services if you’re unable to switch,” says Jason Vitug, a former retail banking executive and author of “You Only Live Once: The Roadmap to Financial Wellness and a Purposeful Life.”
“It can also mean relying on nontraditional services such as cashing your paycheck at check cashing outlets [which can easily] cost you more,” Vitug says.
If this describes your situation, you have a few other options. Here are some alternatives to checking accounts that can work until you improve your ChexSystems report.
A prepaid card works like a gift card. You load it with money and then use it wherever cards are accepted. Some popular providers include the American Express Serve card, which also provides 1 percent cash back to consumers.
You can send money with your prepaid card, pay bills online and set up direct deposit. In many ways, it acts like a debit card you’d get with a checking account.
However, there are downsides to these cards, mostly fees. Some prepaid cards charge a fee for buying the card, while others also have a monthly fee. They can also charge every time you withdraw money or reload the card. If you use the card often, you can face high fees every month that cut into your ability to save and improve your finances.
Prepaid cards have been targeted by consumer watchdogs like the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), which has gone after companies that charge consumers exorbitant fees.
In our review of the AccountNow Gold Visa Prepaid Debit Card, we found that consumers could spend more than $100 in fees per year just to maintain the card.
Fresh start/second chance bank accounts
Typically, Fresh Start or Second Chance checking accounts are a better option than a prepaid card. That’s because they often have many of the typical features found in a traditional checking account, like ATM access.
Like prepaid cards, these accounts sometimes have extra fees. For example, the BBVA Compass Easy Checking account comes with a $13.95 monthly fee as well as a $10 fee for opening a debit card. Most traditional checking accounts have smaller monthly fees that can be waived if you have direct deposit or a minimum account balance.
If you decide to use a Second Chance account, try to find one that offers to upgrade you after a certain time period. For example, BBVA will allow you to request an upgrade after 12 months if your account has a positive balance and is in good standing. Because of this, it may make more sense to open one of these accounts than to set up a prepaid debit card.
Just watch out for fees associated with these accounts, as they can be significant.
Axiom is a regional bank in central Florida and it offers a second chance checking account called Opportunity Checking. It charges a $10 monthly fee but has no minimum balance requirement. And like many fresh start checking accounts, the bank requires a minimum opening deposit of $25.
Bank of America
Bank of America’s SafeBalance Banking Account has some of the lowest fees for all Second Chance accounts, at $4.95 a month and a $25 minimum opening deposit. Because these accounts don’t allow you to spend more than your current balance, you’re not likely to overdraw your account and face heavy fees.
You can even enroll in the popular Keep the Change program which will round up purchases to the nearest dollar and transfer the difference in a savings account. However, this account does not provide paper checks so if you need to write checks on a regular basis, try applying for another account.
BBVA’s Easy Checking Account has fewer fees than some Second Chance checking accounts. Mobile banking and bill pay are free and the only mandatory fee is a $13.95 monthly charge. Plus, you can earn cash back on certain purchases.
PNC Bank does not advertise its second chance checking account, but it’s called Foundation Checking. According to ValuePenguin, PNC offers this account with a minimum opening deposit of $25 and monthly fees of $9.
TD Ameritrade doesn’t check your ChexSystems account; however, in order to qualify for a bank account, you must open a brokerage account with the firm. Fortunately, it’s possible to open a brokerage account with TD Ameritrade without a minimum deposit; however, a lot of people might not want to go through so much trouble just for access to a checking account.
Wells Fargo’s Opportunity Checking accounts allow users to avoid the $10 monthly fee with a few easy methods, including 10 debit card purchases, qualifying direct deposits of $500 or more or a $1,500 minimum daily balance. Fees related to this account include $2.50 for non-Wells Fargo ATM withdrawals, $35 overdraft fees and $12.50 each time a transfer is made to avoid a direct deposit.
How to avoid negative marks on your ChexSystems report
Having a good ChexSystems report is like having a good credit report. All it takes is creating good habits, staying on top of your finances and being patient.
If you’re trying to repair a poor ChexSystems report, the best thing you can do is to avoid any overdrafts or bounced checks. If your account is negative, try to rectify it as soon as possible.
Communicate with your bank or credit union as soon as you anticipate a problem. Customer service representatives are more likely to be lenient if you’re attempting to find a solution.