After the Wells Fargo Debacle, Wondering Which Bank to Trust?

Worried that your bank is pulling the wool over your eyes after the Wells Fargo  (WFC) scandal, where as many as 2 million accounts were set up for customers who didn't approve them? 

In a recent study that reviewed 50 banks, ranking them by number of complaints, regulatory violations, penalty payment amounts, and responsiveness to customer needs, San Francisco-based Wells Fargo came in fifth based on a tally of total fines and consumer complaints.

On the same basis, Bank of America (BAC)   ranked first, meaning it had the most fines and complaints, followed by Barclays  (BCS) , HSBC (HSBC)  and EverBank (EVER) . 

If that only adds to your concerns, Robert Harrow, a financial services analyst at ValuePenguin.com who helped to conduct the survey, has some advice.

Consumers "should look closely at their statements," Harrow said in a phone interview. "If they spot any problems or errors, they should contact the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau," a federal agency.

The phony accounts at San Francisco-based Wells Fargo, disclosed in a regulatory settlement this month, included credit cards, checking and savings. They were set up by employees under pressure to sell as many as eight products to each customer or lose their jobs.

In some cases, money was moved from an account the customer authorized to one of the bogus accounts, which led to charges for overdrafts on the account the customer used and inactivity fees on the other, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which fined Wells Fargo $100 million.

As many as 565,000 credit card accounts were opened without customer authorizations, generating annual fees, interest and other charges; fake debit cards were issued with PIN codes, and customers were enrolled in online banking with bogus email addresses, the bureau said.

The bank has already made refunds totaling nearly $2.6 million. 

Quite often, Harrow said, people concerned about a problem with a business they frequent will turn to the Better Business Bureau. When such issues arise with a bank, however, "that's not something I would suggest," he added. "That organization doesn't have the power to put money back in your pocket, but the CFPB does."

The consumer bureau was created in 2011 under the Dodd Frank financial reform law to protect consumers against abuses. So far, it has provided $11.4 billion in refunds to 25 million customers, fielding over 900,000 complaints with a 97% response rate, according to the government agency's website. 

"It's good to have that governmental regulatory agency in your corner to help you and fight for you," Harrow added. "If there's any problems definitely file a complaint. Don't let it sit, don't ignore it."

Generally, the ValuePenguin study found, larger banks have a better record of responding to consumers' complaints, providing refunds or other solutions.

JPMorgan Chase (JPM) ranks 29th out of 50, with 50 being the worst, in responsiveness, 26th in complaints, and 45th in regulatory penalties. Citibank, the consumer division of Citigroup (C) , ranks 17th in responsiveness, 29th in complaints, and 44th in regulatory penalties.

North Carolina-based BB&T Financial (BBT) had the least penalties, with zero violations. 

EXCLUSIVE LOOK INSIDE: Wells Fargo and Citigroup are holdings in Jim Cramer's Action Alerts PLUS charitable trust portfolio. Want to be alerted before he buys or sells WFC or C? Learn more now.

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