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AARP Answers: Your Bank and the Coronavirus

The latest on branch hours, fee waivers, hardship relief, online banking and more

woman in face mask cleaning her hands after using bank atm

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Are banks branches open during the outbreak?

Generally speaking, yes. Banks are among the businesses deemed essential, and as such they are permitted to operate even where stay-at-home orders are in place.

However, major banks have temporarily closed some branches and reduced hours or services at others. Some locations are restricted to ATM and drive-through access; others are providing walk-in service by appointment only. Check your bank's online branch locator to see what's available in your area.

Are banks helping customers facing financial hardship due to the pandemic?

Several big banks are waiving various fees, such as monthly service charges and ATM surcharges, or penalties for overdrafts, exceeding monthly transaction limits or making early CD withdrawals. Some are doing so for all customers, while others are doing it on a case-by-case basis at the customer's request.

Many banks are also offering hardship assistance to borrowers affected by the outbreak, such as deferring payments or waiving late fees on credit card billsmortgages and other loans. You'll need to contact your bank to discuss available relief options.

Look for a dedicated COVID-19 page on your bank's website or call its customer service line to see what help is being offered. The American Bankers Association has a page on its website outlining steps taken by more than 200 national, regional and local banks.

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I've always gone to my local branch. What banking can I do online?

Most day-to-day services are available through your bank's website or mobile app, and during the coronavirus outbreak banks are encouraging customers to use these tools rather than visit branches.

If you haven't banked online before, you'll need to enroll in your bank's or credit union's digital service by creating a password-protected account on its site or app. Once you have access, you can use your computer, tablet or smartphone to:

  • check balances and monitor activity
  • review monthly statements
  • transfer money between accounts
  • pay bills such as credits cards, utilities and insurance premiums
  • deposit checks (you'll need the bank's app and a tablet or smartphone camera)

Many banks also have online budgeting and financial-planning tools and allow you to send and receive money through partnerships with mobile-payment services like Zelle.

I'm worried about security. Is online banking safe?

Banks use encryption and other technologies to protect customers’ personal and financial information. Breaches do happen, but the bigger danger comes from scammers who try to pry private data from individual consumers and use it to access or open accounts.

Be wary of unsolicited emails, texts and phone calls purporting to be from your bank, especially if they include attachments or ask for personal information like your account or Social Security number. You'll find more tips on safeguarding your data in the AARP Fraud Resource Center, especially the entries on phishing and identity theft.

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Can my bank keep my stimulus check if I owe money?

It's possible. Tens of millions of Americans will receive their stimulus payments by direct deposit to bank accounts. As it now stands, banks can tap that money if, for example, you are overdrawn or delinquent on a loan.

Not all are doing so. Some of the country's biggest banks, including Bank of America, Chase, Citi and Wells Fargo, have said they will not use stimulus money to make up negative balances in overdrawn accounts.

The CARES Act, which authorized the stimulus payments of up to $1,200 per adult, has different rules for different types of debt. Your stimulus check cannot be garnished for money you owe government agencies, such as unpaid taxes or federal student loans. (There's an exception for child-support payments.) But there's no such shield for private debt.

That means banks can, if they choose, use stimulus checks to offset money you owe them. Other creditors can seize the funds if they have secured court garnishment orders. Under the CARES Act, the Treasury Department can extend protection of stimulus money to private debt, but it has yet to do so.

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