Money-saving lesson backfires on kids


It was a milestone in their lives when Leslie Smartt took her three children to the bank to open their very first savings accounts.

"The idea being, save your money and it will grow," says Smartt.

"It was exciting to be in the bank and feel like, 'Oh, I have my own money to put in an account," says 14-year-old Kate.

The kids brought their piggy banks and opened passbook accounts at a Bank of America in 2007.

"The first time I deposited my money I only had $2," says 10-year-old JJ.

"I think that was money gleaned from a lemonade sale, cookie stand thing," explains Kate.

"I get money from my godmother for my birthday or Christmas," says 12-year-old Clare.

Their mom told them if they kept their money in the bank, it would grow and grow. However, in January, the children went to the bank to deposit Christmas checks from grandma and banking reality hit.

"Basically, my account was completely gone," says Kate.

"I was losing money not gaining money," says Clare.

"My bank account was gone and it wasn't there anymore, and so I didn't have any," says JJ.

Instead of growing, their money had been steadily shrinking. The bank told Smartt the accounts didn't even exist anymore.

"I said that was impossible, of course they existed," says Smartt. "The kids had never even so much as taken out a single deposit."

It turned out bank fees had kicked in after one year and slowly drained the accounts at the rate of $3 per month per child in 2008, increasing to $5 per month in 2009.

JJ's $16 account disappeared the quickest. Kate's $74 was depleted by 2010.

"That was kind of shocking for me because I'd always heard a lot of those things about banks, but it was the first time I'd actually experienced that," says Kate.

"Banks should do the opposite and give interest," says JJ.

Only Clare, who faithfully deposited money over the years, still had $191 in her account out of $323 in deposits.

Smartt says the bank didn't warn her about fees and she assumed there would be none since the children's accounts were linked to hers.

"There's more fees and they're harder to avoid," says Austin Price of California Public Interest Research Group. His nonprofit is calling for laws requiring banks to explain all fees clearly to its customers. Currently banks must inform only those who ask.

"I'm sure she wouldn't have chosen a savings account that would have depleted her children's savings instead of them growing," says Price.

7 On Your Side asked Bank of America about the kids' money. It said in a statement:

"Bank of America does provide ways to avoid fees for children's savings accounts. Unfortunately, we cannot verify what was communicated four years ago that helped determine the type of accounts the customer opened for her children. It is the responsibility of the customer to regularly review bank statements to keep on top of account activity."

However, after 7 On Your Side got involved, Bank of America did restore the children's money -- $310 in all -- and gave each child $50 to help rebuild their savings.

Copyright © 2024 KGO-TV. All Rights Reserved.