Shock and Horror Overdraft

How to Get a Bank Fee Refund

In my time working as a bank manager, I saw the company make a fortune on overdraft and other fees. In fact, that was our second biggest income source after loan interest. We loved profits from fees, but there is one secret that the banks don’t tell you: how to get a fee refund.

The Woman With $300 in Overdraft Fees

One day in the bank, a woman came in who was clearly upset. She put her statement on my desk and told me that we had charged her nearly $300 in overdraft charges. She did somethings right and somethings wrong here.

First, the things she did right. She came in (a phone call would have been fine) to talk about it. If she hadn’t asked, she wouldn’t have had any chance to get her fees waived. But, she did some things wrong too.

She blamed me for the fees, when I was clearly not at fault. The fees happened because she spent money she didn’t have. The first step in getting a fee refunded is to acknowledge how the charge got there in the first place. Don’t blame the bank or the person who is able to help you.

Your History

Remember that banks do not want to lose you as a customer. The customers who pay fees are the most profitable. Waiving a few fees to keep future fees coming is smart business. But banks will only be understanding on occasion.

This woman had overdraft fees regularly over the last year, so this wasn’t an isolated incident. She had spent thousands in fees (unlike Narrow Bridge Finance readers, who never overdraft!). I didn’t mind giving a little bit back, she just had to ask nicely.

Simple Tips to Get Bank Fees Waived

  • Ask for a refund – Sometimes it really is that simple. Just call or go into your branch and ask for a refund. If you have never had any overdraft fees, or have them very rarely, the banker might just waive your fees on the spot.
  • Admit fault – Don’t blame the bank or anyone else for the fee. Taking responsibility will get you more empathy from the bank.
  • Stay calm – If you are friendly and positive, the banker is more likely going to want to help you. If you yell, scream, cry, or raise your voice, the banker will not make any extra effort to help you.
  • Ask for their help – Make it personal. Say something like “what can you do to help me” or “can you please help me by waiving this fee.” Being direct and offering a solution will help get you what you want.

Note: If all of the above failed, consider using Cushion to help get your money back! Click the link to learn more about this app.

The Time I Had an Overdraft Fee

I’ll admit it. One time, I had an overdraft fee. I pulled the wrong card out of my wallet at a restaurant and overdrafted an unused account (never carry cards you don’t regularly use in your wallet). I ended up with an overdraft of about $15.

This was before the banking laws that limit overdraft fees based on the overdraft amount, so my bank stuck me with a $25 charge. OUCH! Remember, to get a refund, all you have to do is ask. But you have to ask the right way.

They happily refunded my fee. No harm done. But I did learn a valuable lesson about being careful pulling a card out of my wallet and only carrying cards I use regularly.

The moral of this story: DO NOT SPEND MONEY YOU DO NOT HAVE. It is the tough truth, but all overdrafts are your fault. The only good way to really know what you have to spend in your account, especially if you use a bank debit card, is to keep tabs on your account with an old fashioned register or an online alternative. Or even better, use a credit card and get miles or points.

Originally published January 21, 2009. Updated January, 2014. Image by rafael-castillo / flickr

5 thoughts on “How to Get a Bank Fee Refund”

  1. You can do the same thing if you’re late paying a credit card. Just call the number on the back of the card, go through the menu until you get a person, and ask them to waive the fee.

  2. I did the same thing when I was a bank manager. My advice is be polite and ask for a refund. It's worked for me since I got out of the banking business, I've had a couple of situations that caused an overdraft. One was truly not my fault. An ACH deposit was made in the morning and then withdrawn later in the day…. but that's another story. My bank, Washington Mutual (now Chase) paid all of my checks & electronic payments, but I had five overdrafts totaling $145. I spoke with the bank manager and received a full refund.

    It's usually a good idea to establish a reltionship with the local branch manager. A little face time goes a long way for getting help when you need it.

  3. Good points Adam and Dale. Credit card companies will often do the same thing.

    Glad to hear another former banker agrees with my post.

    Thanks for your comments. I appreciate hearing other points of view in addition to mine.

  4. I made a similar mistake recently. I thought my paycheck had been deposited when it actually wasn’t yet “available” and our auto-transfers moved a bunch of our money from checking to savings, slightly overdrafting the checking account. If I had realized the paycheck wasn’t available, I would have transferred some money from savings to checking to cover! Thankfully I got the fee waived just by asking (nicely, while admitting fault).

    1. That is the one downside of auto-transfers and auto-pay. There is always a risk of forgetting about a payment or the timing of a deposit/withdrawal. Glad you were a fee waiver success story!

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