What to Do if You're Listed in ChexSystems

By: Stephen Snyder

“...I'm sorry, my bank cannot help you. You're listed in ChexSystems...”
My wife and I just moved from South Bend, Indiana to Indianapolis. We needed a checking account. We both wanted a fresh start after bankruptcy, and opening a new checking account with a new bank seemed like a good place to start.
I chose to go with a national bank and found a branch on Fall Creek Road in Indianapolis near Geist Reservoir. I was nervous.
The thing about filing bankruptcy that most people have a hard time understanding (unless they've gone through it themselves) is the feeling of inferiority. Each new credit application can cause anxiety.
I'll share a quote that pulled me through this stressful time in my life. It's from Eleanor Roosevelt. She said...
“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”
I love that quote.
So I walked into the bank branch with the attitude, “Everyone knows I filed bankruptcy—so what?” I asked to be directed to the person who could open a new checking account for me.
The lady at the desk who began to talk to me about opening an account was really nice...until she found my name in ChexSystems.
Then everything changed...
“...I'm sorry, my bank cannot help you. You're listed in ChexSystems...”
That was that.
I walked out of the bank without a checking account because of a company called ChexSystems.
What is ChexSystems?
ChexSystems is a checking account verification company based in Woodbury, Minnesota. Banks and credit unions use them when people apply to open a checking account. It's essentially a consumer reporting agency designed to check if people have a history of writing bad checks. If you're listed in ChexSystems you're usually not allowed to open a checking account with that bank.
ChexSystems is the largest player in the check verification industry. However, there are other companies that provide similar services, such as TeleCheck and Decision Power Insight from Equifaxreg;.
I'll focus on ChexSystems since they're the largest.
Are You On The ChexSystems Blacklist?
There are several actions that can get you on ChexSystems' blacklist...
- Fraudulent handling of a checking account
- Bouncing a check resulting in non-sufficient funds (NSF)
- Overdrafting your account while using your ATM or debit card
- Having your account “closed for cause”
One of the most common ways to get listed in ChexSystems happens when you move or change banks. Because check and debit card charges don't show up on your account as soon as you make them, you can get hit with NSF charges after you thought you closed your old bank account.
The best way to avoid this problem is to leave your old account open until you are sure all your transactions have cleared.
Once you're listed in a check verification service such as ChexSystems—it's best to just pay what's due. Also, make sure you request a letter on that bank's letterhead stating that all debts have been paid.
Now, one would think that if you included an unpaid check in your bankruptcy petition that your debt would be erased—I personally didn't find that to be the case.
I learned that entries remain on your ChexSystems report (even if they're paid off) for five years. So if you think you're safe because you paid the check or included it in your bankruptcy, you may not be.
This was my ChexSystems experience. Yours may be different. If you have a ChexSystems story to share go here to tell me about it. I'll compile all the information and share it with everyone in a future issue.
How Do You Know If You're Listed In ChexSystems?
You'll either be unable to open a new bank checking account or you'll have a difficult time getting stores to accept your checks.
You see, the same corporation that owns ChexSystems also owns SCAN, the company that verifies checks at places such as Wal-Mart or your local grocery store.
When you write a check at a store, and they put it through that little machine at the register, they're looking to see if you're listed in either SCAN's or ChexSystems' databases. If you are, they usually won't accept your check.
If they do accept your check, then ChexSystems has guaranteed that it will be honored by your bank. If it bounces like a rubber ball, then ChexSystems will pay the merchant the amount of the check out of their pocket...then you not only have to pay your bank's NSF fee, but ChexSystems' as well...which can get expensive.
The best way to know if you're in ChexSystems is to review your ChexSystems report. Since they're a consumer reporting agency, ChexSystems has to follow the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) and the new Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACTA). This means you're entitled to one free copy of your ChexSystems report every year.
What I Figured Out By Accident
After my unexpected rejection from the bank on Fall Creek Road, I needed a few days to regroup.
My wife and I shared a car at the time, and she had a job interview at a RE/MAX real estate office near Geist Reservoir.
As I waited for her, I noticed three new banks just a stone's throw from each other. Literally, one on each corner of the road. What were they thinking? None of the branches looked busy. My guess was they were stumbling over each other to win new bank customers...even ones listed in ChexSystems.
So I took a chance.
I locked the car, hoping Michele wouldn't return right away. Then I picked the bank that looked the newest. I went in and asked to be directed to the person who could open a new checking account for me.
I sat down in the branch manager's office. And as he was going through the routine pleasantries, I noticed him reaching in his drawer for a new starter checking account kit.
I then spoke up and asked, “But what if I'm listed with ChexSystems?”
His answer shocked me.
“We don't use CheckSystems. I'd be happy to open an account for you.”
And so he did.
I returned to the car, excited to share my discovery with Michele. We had a checking account from a bank!
What I hope you glean from this is that not all banks or credit unions use ChexSystems. It may seem like it in some cities, but they absolutely are not used by 100% of financial institutions.
How To Get a Checking Account If You're Listed In ChexSystems
The best way is to find a bank that doesn't use ChexSystems to verify new accounts.
Here's how to go about it...
1. Start by making a list of all the bank branches in your area. You'll do better if you stick with the smaller, local banks and avoid the big banks.
2. Call and ask to speak to the branch manager.
3. Inquire about their different checking account programs. (How much money do you need to start an account, how long does it take, can you do it online, what check number will they start you out at, etc.?)
4. Then ask how they verify new accounts. Do they review your credit report? If so, which credit report, and will the credit inquiry lower your credit scores? (Of course, you know the answer to this question is yes—but let's see how many tell you the truth.) Or, do they use a check verification service? If so, which one?
If the branch manager tells you they don't use ChexSystems—you've got a winner! Be sure to write down the person's name and make arrangements to stop in and open an account. If the branch manager tells you they use ChexSystems...here's what to say next...
“...Darn it. I'm listed with ChexSystems and they're a bear to deal with to get something resolved. Is there anything I can do to get an account with you?”
If they say, “No,” ask them...
“Do you happen to know of a local bank that doesn't use ChexSystems or a program that can help me open a new bank account?”
Sometimes you can speed up your search by asking for help. It will take you only a few seconds to ask, but the right answer may save you hours of research.
A New Trend Developing
I've noticed more and more banks are reviewing credit reports in lieu of using check verification services. Sometimes they even do both! I wouldn't open an account with a bank that does this—mainly because their credit inquiry will lower my credit scores. So keep looking.
Banks That Really Care
Some banks are willing to give even bankrupt people a break. If you're searching for a new bank and you think you may have trouble getting a checking account, ask if they have some kind of “second chance” or “fresh start” program.
A lot of banks have probationary programs that offer limited services for a set amount of time (usually six months). If you really need a checking account, these programs can be a lifesaver.
There are also two specific services that a lot of banks and credit unions are becoming affiliated with. Basically, these programs allow you to take a course on how to manage a checking account. And when you complete the course, you'll be given a certificate to open a bank checking account with a participating bank or credit union.
The two programs are called Get Checking and InBalance. Get Checking is geared more toward banks, while InBalance is more for credit unions.
So don't be afraid to ask. Remember what Eleanor Roosevelt said...
“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

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Stephen Snyder is the founder of the After Bankruptcy Foundation a non-profit organization that helps people recover after bankruptcy. He has helped thousands of people obtain a loan after bankruptcy with a fair interest rate.

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