A new Harris survey reveals that more and more Americans say they don’t believe a word of what banks and credit card companies are telling them. The issue is a trust one, and right now, financial consumers are fed up financial institutions — so much so that it will take years, maybe decades, to regain that trust.

We’ll get to the Harris poll in a moment, but the irony is that banks don’t seem to realize how unpopular they are with consumers. There’s an outfit in Chicago called the Bank Administration Institute that produces a bank consumer sentiment survey every six months.

In August 2009, bankers told the BAI that consumers had a favorable opinion of them. Six months later, in 2010 — bankers told BAI researchers that customers had increased their favorable views of banks.

But the BAI also talked to bank customers — and in the February index, bank consumers' sentiments toward banks fell by a whopping 19%.

Who would have though that after a steady stream of home foreclosures, credit card cancellations, rejected loans and rampant checking account overdraw charges, that bank consumers just aren’t really feeling the love? What’s even worse, who would have thought that bank executives would have believed otherwise?

Speaking of believing, the Harris Poll offers further proof that bank customers just don’t trust their financial institutions. According to Harris, in its 2010 survey of 2,755 U.S. adults, only about 5% of survey respondents say they ‘completely believe” statements made by financial institutions.

Only 4% of respondents said that statements made by banks were completely believable, while just 2% of participants said that they believed anything a mortgage company told them. Credit card companies rate just as low — only 2% of Harris participants said they believe anything a credit card company says.

Banks do better in the “somewhat believable” category — 57% say that banks are believable some of the time. Credit card companies only rate 34% in this category. Mortgage companies rate 47% in the “somewhat believable” category.

According to a statement by Harris that accompanied the poll, the issue is trust, and banks and other financial services firms are losing that “believability” battle. “The issue here is one of trust,” says Harris. “It takes a long time for any industry to build up the levels of trust that help them weather crises when they occur. And since this crisis is one that negatively impacts people's wallets, trust will erode even more quickly and take much longer to rebuild. That is what these financial companies have to undertake right now.”

And not a moment sooner, if banks want to hang on to their customers.

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