This month, for a change of pace, we are bringing you a LAWCHEK™ ALERT! from our partner and legal site Lawchek.com. This article reviews the questionable changes that have occurred relative to bank "holds" on customer deposits. These changes can effect everyone from the individual customer to the small business owner.
CUSTOMER DEPOSITS: ILLEGITIMATE REVENUE STREAM FOR BANKS?
Richard A. Pundt, Attorney at Law
For quite some time now, certain banks and other financial institutions may have been profiting from what some members of Congress are calling an illegitimate revenue stream, namely, the deposits of its' customers. Today, many banks will place “holds” on customer deposits. Such customer deposit “holds” are for ten business days and usually translate into a ½ month use of the funds deposited; In this way, banks are able to benefit from the interest on customer funds. This questionable practice has caused outrage by depositors and has ignited the concern of key members of Congress.
Congressman Michael Oxley (R-Ohio) has stated: “Holding a deposit to ensure its safety and soundness is reasonable. But holding a deposit in order to profit from the interest is completely unacceptable. The latter practice prevents consumers from realizing the benefits of their own assets, while creating an illegitimate revenue stream for financial institutions. It unfairly penalizes consumers and should be eliminated from the U.S. payment system.” 1
From an analysis in a report by Ms. Laura Bruce of www.Bankrate.com, it is revealed that there are many concerns relative to the new federal enactment of the Check 21 Act. "Check 21" allows the checks that individuals write to clear within one to two days while the deposit may be held by a bank for up to ½ month when weekends are added to the allowable ten day hold under “exceptional” circumstances of the FED Regulations. As a result, the consumer may get “nailed” for overdraft charges if the consumer was counting on the deposit and, in addition, the banks have been keeping the interest on the funds “held” through the deposit delay. Ms. Bruce also notes in her article 2 that Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (D-New York) has introduced HR 5410 that would “…redress imbalances between the faster withdrawals permitted under the Check 21 Act and the slower rates for crediting deposits.”
Examples of bank customers delays due to the banks “hold” practices is very wide-spread and, undoubtedly, has accounted for hundreds of millions of dollars worth of profits for banks. Consumers, realtors, businessmen, and attorneys are becoming increasingly aware of these practices by the banks. This author has encountered quite a number of reported instances where consumers experienced an improper deposit delay or hold for an unreasonable period of time.
Of the many instances reported to this author, there are three that merit review in regard to the issue of deposit “holds.” The first instance involved a very well-respected attorney who deposited over $200,000 into his attorney trust account at a well-known bank and was verbally informed, after the deposit had been made, that there would be a ten business day “hold” on the deposit. He did not receive any written notice as prescribed by Federal Reserve Regulation CC (Availability of Funds and Collection of Checks, 12 CFR 229). This particular attorney had never over-drafted his account and has always maintained a sterling reputation with the Bar, as well as other attorneys. Moreover, the deposit consisted of checks from State Farm Mutual Ins. and John Deere Inc. The attorney directed a hand delivered correspondence to this well-known bank, wherein he requested an immediate removal of the “hold” or, in the alternative, an explanation as to whether the bank in question believed that checks from either State Farm Mutual Ins. or John Deere Inc. would not clear or if there was any improper activity by State Farm Mutual Ins. or John Deere Inc. in regard to: (a) any suspected criminal activity, (b) any suspected money laundering, (c) any suspected terrorist activity, or (d) any other improper activity that would mandate the holding of either check. Needless to say, the bank could not accuse either State Farm Mutual Ins. or John Deere Inc. of any such activity, yet the bank continued its “hold” on the deposit to the trust account from December 7, 2005 until December 20, 2005. The attorney has never received a written or an oral explanation, as he requested in writing, for the hold as prescribed by Federal Reserve Regulation CC (12 CFR 229).
The second instance involved a well-respected realtor who deposited between $200,000-$300,000, as a result of a closing, into his account at the aforementioned bank. He was unaware of any “hold” on the deposit. The realtor issued various checks, as customary, to: other financial institutions, the seller, realtors, an insurance company, taxing authorities, and others. When the bank in question refused to release its “hold,” the realtor’s checks bounced and a significant amount of distress and embarrassment was the result for all parties concerned, except, of course, the bank that profited in two ways: from the interest on the deposit and from the overdraft charges.
The third, but surely not final, instance involved a party who received a Cashier’s Check from a centrally located and well-known bank and, on the same day, deposited the Cashier’s Check into an account at a branch of the same bank. The branch placed a “hold” on its' own main bank’s Cashier’s Check. What is especially interesting about this case, other than the fact that it was the bank’s own Cashier’s Check, is the fact that under Federal Reserve Regulation CC (12 CFR 229), a Cashier’s Check, as well as a check drawn on an account held by the same institution, must be made available on the first business day following the day of deposit.
It would seem that compliance with Federal Reserve Regulation CC (12 CFR 229) is being ignored by several of the largest banks. According to the article by Ms. Bruce, as noted above, proposed legislation HR 5410 has been presented in Congress to benefit the consumer. The legislation is being introduced in order to counter the Check 21 Act that allows the checks written by consumers to clear faster than the actual deposits made at the banks. It is noted in the article that Representatives from Wells Fargo Bank and Wachovia Bank have stated that their banks place holds on less than one percent of all deposits. If one were to consider the dollar magnitude of that one percent, especially if such deposits are for more than $5,000, a substantial windfall of interest profits are the likely result for the banks placing the “hold.” Perhaps the one percent accounts for hundreds of thousands of deposits each day and, if the average dollar amount of such deposit is $10,000 (most likely it is much more), the money on hold by the large banks at any one time would be in the hundreds of millions of dollars for which the banks gain interest on consumers assets, as noted by Congressman Oxley.
Under the Federal Reserve Regulation CC (12 CFR 229), it is mandated that interest should be paid to the consumer (See Regulation CC (12 CFR 229.14)). It is, therefore, understandable why Congressman Oxley has stated that such practice by the banks “…prevents consumers from realizing the benefits of their own assets, while creating an illegitimate revenue stream for financial institutions."
Under Federal Reserve Regulation CC (12 CFR 229), the following deposits must be made available on the first business day following the banking day of deposit: (1) Cash, (2) Electronic Payments, (3) U.S. Treasury Checks, (4) U. S. Postal Service Money Orders, (5) Federal Reserve Bank and Federal Home Loan Bank Checks, (6) State or Local Government Checks, (7) Cashier’s, Certified or Teller’s Checks, (8) Checks drawn on an account held by the same institution upon which the check is drawn, and (9) the first $100, or if less than $100 the entire amount, of all other checks. In the case of the individual who had deposited a Cashier’s Check into an account that was held by the same bank upon which it was drawn, both subsection 7 and subsection 8, as noted above, were ignored.
On other deposits that are not listed above, including the proceeds of local and non-local checks, the checks must generally be made available for withdrawal by the second and fifth business day respectfully following the deposit (See Regulation CC (12 CFR 229.12)). In the case of the attorney, and in the case of the realtor, as noted above, if the deposited checks were local, the deposit should have been credited within two days, and if the checks were non-local, the checks should have been credited within five days. There should not have been an arbitrary hold for ten business days or a ½ month total hold on the deposits.
However, there are exceptions set forth under Regulation CC (12 CFR 229.13), and those exceptions involve: new accounts,3 large deposits, repeatedly overdrawn accounts, or emergency conditions. The only exception of the above examples involving the attorney or the realtor, as given, would be the exception of a large deposit since our investigation ruled out any other scenario. In the case of large deposits, the bank must provide a notice to the consumer (See Regulation CC (12 CFR 229.13)), and that notice must be in writing (See Regulation CC (12 CFR 229.15), (12 CFR 229.16), (12 CFR 229.17) and (12 CFR 229.18)). Additionally, and under Regulation CC (12 CFR 229.14), interest must be paid on interest bearing accounts no later than the day the bank receives credit for the funds deposited.
It would appear that certain banks may be circumventing the requirements of Federal Reserve Regulation CC (12 CFR 229), and that is undoubtedly one of the reasons that Congressman Oxley has expressed concern, and why Congresswoman Maloney is reintroducing HR 5410. As a practical matter, most customers drop the issue once they actually receive their funds, which have been held by the bank, because they wish to maintain a good standing relationship with the bank. So does that mean that nothing can be done? The answer is no. Something can be done, but it requires positive action by the customer.
First, the customer may file a complaint with the Federal Reserve at: The Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, Division of Consumer and Community Affairs at 20th and C Streets, N.W., Stop 801, Washington, DC 20551. Additionally, the consumer may file a complaint with the respective State Banking Commissioner in the state where the violation occurs. Also, contacting the proper parties within Congress, such as Congressman Michael Oxley (R-Ohio) or Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (D-New York).
Finally, there is a civil remedy expressly set forth under Federal Reserve Regulation CC (12 CFR 229.21). The civil remedy allows for both individual and class actions. See Regulation 12 CFR 229.21 (a) (2) (i) and (ii). The statute provides a limitation on class actions that includes actual damages up to $500,000 or 1% of the net worth of the bank involved (the lesser of the two) plus costs and attorney fees.