(WFLX) - You've heard of credit reporting agencies, but did you know there are companies tracking your banking history, and any money mistakes you make?
We're talking about your consumer report, and most banks look at it before allowing you to open a checking or savings account.
If your record isn't good, you could end up like the nearly 1 million Americans who are "blacklisted" by banks.
Natasha Carmon pays her bills by driving to each business, going inside, and settling up with cash or purchases a money order. "It's definitely frustrating."
Frustrating because she'd rather pay by check. But at each stop Natasha made, trying to open checking accounts at different banks, she says, she got the same surprising news. "They all denied me, and they all said that it's because you owe this bank x amount of dollars."
She says four years ago, she got hit with a bank fee, and when she couldn't pay, the charges piled up, and her account was closed. "The fees just got so extreme that I couldn't keep that up."
Unpaid fees and involuntary account closures are just some money mistakes. Banks and credit unions may report to two different tracking companies: "Chex Systems" and "Early Warning".
These consumer reporting agencies receive information about people who have had financial mishaps or even fraudulently bounced checks.
Before they approve a new account, many banks check your past records. "It's a good indication of whether the person can manage the account and what risk they present of causing the bank to lose money," said Nessa Feddis with American Bankers Association.
A FDIC survey reveals 65 percent of banks cite "negative screening hit due to prior account closure or mismanagement" as the most common reason for denying checking account applications.
"A consumer who bounced a check once is not a deadbeat, a consumer who bounced a check once may not even have made a conscious mistake," said Ed Mierzwinski, USPIRG.
Potentially millions of Americans are "blacklisted from banks", and consumer advocates worry financial institutions could be shutting out some people whose record was dinged by accident. "There could have been an automatic payment that the consumer had canceled, but the company, by mistake, continued to try to take out of their account, and that is happening more and more often today," Mierzwinski said.
Federal law says you can request a free banking history report each year and dispute any incorrect information. Chex Systems told us if consumers find errors it's "committed to resolving all such disputes as quickly as possible".
Early Warning declined our request for comment.
As for Natasha, she says, she's going to have to keep hitting the road to pay her bills -- at least for now. "I don't like it, but until I can find a bank who is willing to give me a banking, a checking account, then that's the options that I have."
The American Bankers Association says banks don't report you if you overdraw your account but take care of it.
When you don't pay the overdraft fee though, that could cause you to have trouble getting accounts in the future.
Some banks offer alternative "cash only pre paid card" accounts for people can't get traditional accounts.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau regulates these reporting practices. See the Consumer Finance Web site for more information on that and how to get your free annual report.