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.
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.
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
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