Bank of America is paying $10 million to settle a regulator’s claim that it illegally helped some creditors strip funds out of its customers’ accounts, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau said Wednesday.
The bureau, which brought the case against the bank, said Bank of America had forced the customers to agree to contracts that limited their ability to fight the creditors’ actions. In 3,700 cases, the bureau said, Bank of America also made customers pay a total of just under $600,000 in “garnishment fees” for processing their creditors’ fund-extraction requests.
“Bank of America imposed unlawful garnishment fees and injured its customers by inserting unenforceable clauses into contracts in an attempt to strip legal rights from families,” said Rohit Chopra, the bureau’s director.
William Halldin, a Bank of America spokesman, said the bank was refunding the customers in the 3,700 cases. “We have enhanced our processes to ensure compliance with all applicable state laws as we execute court orders,” he said.
From 2011 to 2016, Bank of America carried out around one million garnishment requests from creditors, Mr. Halldin said.
At the heart of the consumer bureau’s case was the bank’s response to state laws limiting the ability of creditors to take funds out of customers’ accounts.
In some states, it is illegal to take so much money to fulfill a court-ordered payment obligation that the debtor is left with nothing to live on. Different states allow debtors to keep different amounts that creditors with court orders can’t touch.
The location of a customer’s bank account in one state or another can greatly affect how much money creditors can take out of it. The consumer bureau said Bank of America failed to apply the correct restrictions to some of its customers and incorrectly told the customers that the location of the court issuing the collection order mattered the most.