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Opening a new checking or savings account can be difficult if you have a spotty banking history.
Banks and credit unions report negative account activity such as involuntary account closures, habitual overdrafts, and suspected fraud or identity theft to ChexSystems, a specialty consumer reporting agency that financial institutions use to screen account applicants.
Like credit reports, it’s possible for ChexSystems reports to contain errors or be out of date. If you’re not sure why your bank account application was rejected or you want to clear up incorrect or outdated ChexSystems information, here are the steps to take to clear up your report.
1. Get a copy of your ChexSystems report
The first step is to order a copy of your ChexSystems report. Visit the CheckSystems website and click on “request your report,” or you can call ChexSystems at 800-428-9623 and follow the automated prompts.
“A ChexSystems report is something consumers are entitled to for free once every 12 months,” says Greg McBride, CFA, Bankrate chief financial analyst. “Check to see if you even have a report; you likely won’t if you haven’t overdrawn accounts or had them closed on you.”
ChexSystems retains reported information for up to five years. If you pay off a negative balance with a bank, ChexSystems doesn’t have to remove the report, but it must update it to show that you are paid up. You can view a sample ChexSystems consumer report on its website.
Your ChexSystems report might contain information from Certegy, another consumer reporting agency that offers check authorization services to merchants. You can get a free copy of your Certegy report. Call 800-237-3826 and use the automated system or follow instructions for making your request by mail or fax.
2. Dispute errors in your report
The federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) gives consumers the right to dispute erroneous or incomplete information in their consumer reports and request an investigation. The FCRA also requires that mistakes be corrected in a timely manner, usually within 30 days.
You can submit your dispute on ChexSystems’ website, by mail or by fax. The ChexSystems homepage has links and clear directions to guide you.
Include all relevant documents to support your dispute. Send copies, not originals. If you have witnesses who can attest to your version of events — for instance, if a customer service representative at the bank believes that you are a victim of identity theft — include their names and contact information.
Keep a paper trail. Make copies of everything. If you send your dispute by mail, get a mail tracking number.
3. Settle your debts
If you have a negative bank account balance or owe fees, pay off the debt. Ask for written proof that you have settled up and hang on to the receipts and documentation.
If the amount is more than you can pay at once, try to negotiate a lower amount or a repayment plan. Stick to your promise to repay.
4. Request removal of negative information
After you’ve repaid your bank or other creditors, ask them to update your ChexSystems report. Once your report is updated, get a copy of the report and retain it for your records. With a clean record, you should be able to qualify to open a bank account.
5. Other possible actions
You can also file a complaint with your state attorney general and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which oversees credit reporting agencies.
As a last resort, you can file a lawsuit under the FCRA against ChexSystems or the bank. The National Association of Consumer Advocates might be able to help you find an experienced lawyer. Look for one willing to handle your case on contingency, which means the lawyer gets paid only if you win the case.
Consider a second-chance checking account
If the negatives that appear on your ChexSystems report are accurate, you might have to wait until the time comes for the information to drop off your file.
In the meantime, you can try to rebuild your reputation with the banking industry by opening a second-chance checking account.
Second-chance checking accounts usually have minimum funding requirements, monthly fees and fewer conveniences than regular checking accounts.
But after proving your reliability, you might be eligible for a regular checking account, a savings account and other bank products that are available to consumers who have shown they can responsibly manage them.
Ask the bank how long your probation period must last before you can switch to a new bank account.