Pew Charitable Trusts released two studies over the past couple of years about checking account agreements that only a lawyer would understand.
Buried in these lengthy documents are some nasty clauses, including one like this:
Disputes Involving Your Account
You agree to be liable to us for any loss, costs, or expenses, including reasonable attorney’s fees, that we may incur as a result of any dispute involving your Account. You authorize us to deduct any such loss, costs or expenses from your Account without prior notice to you. This obligation includes disputes between you and us involving the Account and situations where we become involved in disputes between you and an authorized signer, another joint owner, or a third party claiming an interest in the Account. Also, it includes those situations where you, an authorized signer, another joint owner, or a third party take some action with respect to the Account which causes us to seek the advice of counsel, even though we do not actually become involved in the dispute. –PNC Bank disclosure
In plain English, this says that if they have to hire a lawyer because of a dispute relating to your account, whether you sue them or they sue you, or something else causes them to consult a lawyer, they can deduct the cost from your account without notice. They make no exclusion should you be right and win your case.
According to the Pew study, four of the 12 banks they examined had clauses similar to this, including HSBC Bank and TD Bank. They are asking the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) to look at issues like this, and require better disclosure or elimination of unreasonable contract terms.
For more information about this sneaky practice, you can read this LA Times story.