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Banking customers who have overdue charges — such as an unpaid overdraft fee — can be reported to a consumer reporting agency called ChexSystems. If you’re having a hard time opening a bank account, it could be because the bank checked your record in ChexSystems to see if you might be a risky customer and has decided to deny your application. Try these five steps to improve your ChexSystems record.
» Need more context? Learn the basics about ChexSystems
1. Request your report
Get your ChexSystems report to determine why a bank didn’t approve your application. The report shows a breakdown of specific accounts closed, outstanding debts, bounced checks and more. You’re eligible for a free copy of your report once every 12 months.
Request your record in one of these ways:
Call ChexSystems at 800-428-9623. (This is an automated voice messaging system.)
Visit the website, go to the Request Reports section and fill out the consumer disclosure form. Submit it online or print it out and mail it to Chex Systems, Inc., Attn: Consumer Relations, PO Box 583399, Minneapolis, MN 55458
2. Dispute errors
If you find information that you believe is wrong, gather supporting documents, such as payment records or bank statements. Then go to the Dispute Information section of the ChexSystems website and choose how you’ll submit your dispute:
Online: At the link above, click on that webpage where it says "Submit Request Online." You'll be taken to a form to fill out and an area where you can upload files that support your claim. Once you're ready, hit "submit" at the bottom of that page.
Via mail: Starting at the same link above, click the phrase "Submit Request by Other Methods." From there, you’ll see a link for the “Request for Reinvestigation” form to print out. Fill in the necessary information and include copies of any supporting documents — not originals.
By phone: If you've already received a copy of your ChexSystems report, you can speak to a representative at 800-428-9623. This is helpful if you don't have any supporting documents.
The next part is up to you. You can let ChexSystems contact the bank or credit union that reported false information on your behalf or mail a dispute to the financial institution yourself. If you choose to do it yourself, use this sample letter to get started.
ChexSystems and your financial institution must research the dispute within 30 days, or 21 days for Maine residents. If they confirm that information is wrong or incomplete, they’re bound by federal law to correct it. If you're not satisfied, you can add a brief statement to your report explaining the problem.
3. Pay off debts
If your report is accurate and you owe money, pay it. If your budget is tight, ask your creditors if they'd be willing to settle for less than the debt amount. This process is similar to how you would manage debt disputes with other forms of credit, such as unpaid credit card bills.
If you decide to work with a debt settlement agency instead of directly with your creditor, keep in mind that there are risks to doing so, including expensive fees and potential clashes with your creditor and the settlement agency that could lead to a debt collection lawsuit.
» More from NerdWallet: 7 tips to pay off debt fast
4. Ask creditors to update information
Once you’ve paid your debts, ask the collection agency or other creditor to update your file on ChexSystems. Get payoff information in writing and keep track of receipts or other documents that show you’ve paid the debt.
Once your debt is paid off, the creditor is obligated to let ChexSystems know and your consumer report will be updated, but your record will remain on file for the standard length of time.
5. Wait until the record drops out of the database
If all else fails, wait until blemishes fall off your record. Reported information usually is removed from your ChexSystems file after five years.
Until then, you might be able to open a second-chance checking account. These accounts are designed for people who have a record with consumer reporting agencies such as ChexSystems. Although these accounts generally have monthly fees you can’t avoid, they can help rebuild your financial history and make you eligible for a standard bank account, usually within a year.
» Interested in rebuilding your banking life? Find a bank for you among our list of second-chance checking accounts
» Want to compare banks' overdraft fees? Read about what banks charge for overdraft fees
As an alternative to a bank account, you could choose from our list of the best prepaid debit cards. These spending cards have some banking features such as direct deposits and multiple loading methods including cash loads and check deposits.