How to Deal with Bank Fees keep your own Money

Banks can be difficult do deal with. They’re conservative and often it’s confusing how to use the chain of command, and frustrating when each of two departments refers you to the other. It’s possible to find a bank that will work with you and occasionally forgive fees, depending on what type of customer you are and what kind of fees they charge you.

I would agree that consumers must be aware of their balances and pay if they overcharge their accounts (this is set in the account agreement). But some fees are uncalled for and it seems as though banks invent ways to charge more fees every year. I once had a “returned statement fee” debited to my account. Being polite and using the bank’s chain of command often will result in a refund of at least part of the fees assessed.

Bank fees come in two varieties: penalties, and paying for simply doing something such as opening an account. Definitely the latter type of fees can be avoided in the internet age. Some parts of the country typically charge for accounts and in other parts of the country, banks do not charge for that. Find out if you can go to a bank that provides the same services for you for less or no fees and patronize that bank. Opening an account is easy and the bank will usually be happy to have your business.

Often banks will charge for official checks, coin counting, and other services. If you politely ask the bank to waive the fee for something like that, it might. It also might be helpful to be a frequent or long-time customer. Again, it’s easy to find an alternative to a bank if it charges a fee for something. If a bank charges $2 for a money order, go to a convenience store and buy one for $0.79. Trivial amounts can add up to hundreds or even thousands of dollars over a lifetime.

Even a “free” account might start incurring fees, for example, if the account goes below a certain balance or if it has no activity for a certain amount of time. Reading your statements online or in the mail is very helpful – a balance of less than $100 can go to below zero in a year or less before it’s closed by the bank’s system. Consolidating your accounts may help (and the trend is for banks to open several accounts for customers due to promotions or for other reasons).

Debit cards can be a real trap because the available balance may not be in real time. Holds, delays, and other glitches may make having a debit card not worth it to you. If you starting incurring fees for some reason, especially if you honestly think that they’re not due to your lack of attention to the account, call or visit the bank and ask them to retract the fees. If they say no, press them for a reason. If they still refuse, politely ask to speak with a supervisor. Repeat the above steps with the supervisor and then ask if the branch manager is at the bank and ask for his or her business card. If the branch manager refuses to cooperate, ask the branch manager for the bank President’s information. Craft a thoughtful letter right away and follow up on it. Using a logical argument to tell the bank why you should not be responsible for fees is obviously helpful. Then, if the bank refuses to cooperate and you’ve exhausted all of the available avenues, you certainly may choose to do business with another bank.

Often a compromise such as splitting the fees will be offered. This is probably as good as you’ll get, but it’s up to you if you want to keep pressing the issue. Multiple fees can be incurred without the customer being aware of the first fee, so if that feels unfair to you (it certainly does to me!) say so.

Banks have become more strict in recent years for various reasons. The pressure to make profits has increased in the banking industry, and some tenacity may be required to convince the bank to retract the fees it charged you. Generally speaking, being polite, not giving up, and using logical arguments will help convince banks to retract fees that you feel are unjustified.