Wells Fargo SettlementOver the past year, banking giant Wells Fargo has been embroiled in a scandal for opening an estimated 3.5 million unauthorized accounts in customers’ names after setting unrealistic sales goals for its employees. Not only was it forced to pay $185 million in fines to the federal government and the City and County of Los Angeles, but it is also the defendant in a class action settlement totaling $142 million. A San Francisco judge approved the settlement in July, and although the final hearing isn’t until January of next year, the time is drawing closer for people who were affected by the fraudulent accounts to file their claims. If you’re wondering how you can get involved with the Wells Fargo settlement, we’ve broken down who’s eligible to make a claim, how you can file and how the settlement money is being distributed.

Who is eligible to file a claim for the Wells Fargo settlement?

If you were a Wells Fargo customer at any point between May 1, 2002 and April 20, 2017, and you believe the bank opened a checking account, savings account, credit card or line of credit in your name without your permission, you can file a claim. You can also file a claim if you had authorized identity theft protection services from Wells Fargo during that same period of time.

How do I file a claim?

Some people were identified by Wells Fargo as potential victims of the account fraud, or made complaints to the bank or federal regulators about fraudulent accounts, and those people should receive claim forms in the mail by early October. If you don’t fall into that group or you didn’t receive the claim forms, you’ll have to file your claim on the Wells Fargo settlement website. Online claims filing will officially start on Oct. 6, and currently the website only lets you enter your email address to receive updates on the settlement and view court documents. There is no supporting documentation required to file a claim — all you have to do to be part of the settlement is fill out a claim form.

For those of you planning to file a separate lawsuit against Wells Fargo for opening unauthorized accounts, you have to exclude yourself from the settlement. Exclusion forms will be available on the settlement website in the future, and must be filed by Dec. 5.

What do I get when the settlement gets final approval?

When the $142 million settlement fund gets paid out to plaintiffs, it will be divided into three categories of compensation.

1. Fee Reimbursement: You will receive a refund for any fees connected with unauthorized accounts opened in your name. People with unauthorized accounts opened between January 1, 2009 and April 20, 2017 will receive money equal to the fees the accounts incurred, while people with accounts opened between May 1, 2002 and December 31, 2008 will get a flat refund amount equal to the average fee reimbursement paid to the 2009 to 2017 group. The flat amount stems from the fact that Wells Fargo doesn’t have exact data on fees charged to accounts before 2009.

It should be noted that Wells Fargo has already paid $5 million in fee refunds to some affected customers as part of a settlement with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Los Angeles City Attorney. If Wells Fargo has already reimbursed you for fees related to fraudulent accounts, you’re ineligible for this category since you can’t recover the same lost funds twice.

2. Credit Impact Damages: This compensates people whose credit scores were hurt because of fraudulent credit card, line of credit and small business deposit accounts. It’s calculated based on how much the unauthorized accounts damaged your credit scores, as well as an estimate of how much additional interest you paid on loans because of that damage. If you want to receive credit impact damage benefits, you have to authorize the law firm representing Wells Fargo to check your credit reports so they can calculate how negatively your credit scores affected. The check is just a soft inquiry, so don’t worry about it harming your credit.

3. Additional Compensation: After the settlement fund pays the fee reimbursement, credit impact damages, attorney’s fees and expenses, the money remaining in the fund will be distributed based on how many fraudulent accounts you claim Wells Fargo opened in your name. If you filed a claim because you enrolled in Wells Fargo’s authorized identity theft protection, that’s counted as having one unauthorized account for the purposes of compensation. You might be concerned that the settlement fund will run out of money before this category starts to pay out, but Wells Fargo has agreed to put more money into the fund until there is at least $25 million for additional compensation payments.

Be aware that even though payments could go out as early as Spring 2018 if the judge presiding over the case gives the settlement final approval in January, cases like this tend to have at least a few appeals that make the process stretch on longer. To give you an idea of what to expect, consumers who filed a claim for the 2013 Target data breach settlement are still waiting for all appeals to resolve before they receive their benefits.

While you’re waiting for the filing date, you may want to consider signing up for a credit monitoring service to make sure you can quickly catch fraudulent credit accounts in case something like this happens again, as these services alert you when a new account appears on your credit reports. For more information on protecting your finances, read our personal finance blog.