AARP Answers: Your Bank and the Coronavirus
The latest on branch hours, fee waivers, hardship relief, online banking and more
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 may temporarily close some branches and reduce 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.
If you have questions about accessing bank services during the pandemic, call the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) at 877-275-3342 or check the agency’s COVID-19 information page.
Are banks helping customers facing financial hardship due to the pandemic?
Many 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 bills, mortgages 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 pandemic 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 mobile 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 online banking, phishing and identity theft.
What if I have business that requires speaking directly with a bank employee?
You may be able to schedule a face-to-face meeting with someone at your local branch. Call the bank’s customer service number or look for information on its website about making an appointment. Some major banks, such as Bank of America and Wells Fargo, offer videoconferencing.
Can I open an account with a new bank online?
Yes, many banks will let you start a new account online, in some cases without requiring an initial deposit. The FDIC’s #GetBanked page has information on getting started. Check the websites of Bank On, a project of the nonprofit Cities for Financial Empowerment Fund, and the trade group Independent Community Bankers of America to find national and local banks that let you establish accounts remotely.
Can my bank keep my stimulus check if I owe money?
It's possible. As tens of millions of Americans receive their third COVID-19 relief payments in the form of checks or direct deposits, banks may be able to tap that money if, for example, a recipient is overdrawn on an account or delinquent on a loan.
Several major banks have pledged during the pandemic not to use stimulus money to make up those negative balances. However, even those institutions could be required by court order to turn over stimulus funds to debt collectors.
That's because the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan passed in March does not include language shielding stimulus money from being garnished for private debts, unlike the prior round of federal COVID-19 relief enacted late last year. The new bill was passed under Congress' reconciliation process, limiting it to providions directly related to the federal budget. It does prevent stimulus funds from being seized for some government debts, such as back taxes or child support.
The American Bankers Association, joined by a host of financial-industry and consumer-advocacy groups, is calling on Congress to pass separate legislation protecing the relief payments from debt collection, and Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden is reportedly planning to introduce such a measure.