Polite Letter Gets Bank Of America To Refund Overdraft Fees

Jenn’s checking account with Bank of America recently had a policy change designed to increase overdraft fees, and it worked: sometime between Friday night and Saturday morning she was hit with 6 NSF charges going back the previous 48 hours, because she was about 15 minutes late transferring funds into her account the day before. Technically she had broken the new policy, but Jenn hadn’t realized or remembered that there was a policy change and she was taken by surprise. She decided to try to reason with BoA’s corporate office about the fees, and explain why she thought they were unfair.

Today, she let us know that her letter worked: “Just got off the phone with BoA Corporate in Boston. They’re refunding everything! It pays to write.”

We think it’s worth looking at her letter as an example of how to present your side of an issue to a large company. Jenn is polite, and her letter is professional and well-written. She makes a point of explaining why she chose to become a BoA customer in the first place, and how she’s been an advocate for them in the past—and then points out that this policy change has the effect of ruining her goodwill toward the company by making them “just like every other bank. It’s the reason I left Chase.”

Of course, Bank of America isn’t rescinding the new policy, so it’s not like Jenn’s letter changed the world or anything. But it does show that it occasionally pays to write a solid letter to the corporate office if you can’t resolve your issue at a branch.

May 7, 2008 
Dear Mr. Lewis, 

I am writing you to lodge a formal complaint about 6 overdraft fees that were recently charged to my account. 

I am a dedicated online banker.  I love Bank of America’s to-the-minute online status updates.  It is just one of the many reasons I switched to BoA from Chase two years ago.  I am also an artist, who though salaried, lives to the penny every month to make ends meet.  I check my bank account online every single day.  Sometimes three or four times a day. 

Since joining BoA I have operated under the “as long as there is a positive amount in the account at the end of the day, you won’t get charged an overdraft fee” rule.  Up until last week, that was true.  I frequently buy a sandwich for lunch at noon if I know I’ll be able to deposit $20 by 5pm.  So I was completely shocked to see two overdraft charges show up on a Saturday morning when on Friday night my account was in the black.  What’s worse is that the two fees were charged for transactions made on Thursday and so were backdated, thus also overdrafting every transaction I made on Friday accumulating another four $35 fees! 

Yesterday I went into the Lincoln & Ashland branch in Chicago, IL to dispute the fact that I was charged overdraft fees on a positive account.  My account details were printed and scoured by 3 different CSRs.  No one could understand the charges.  But no one could do anything about them.  They then made a call to Account Services and discovered that apparently the fees were legitimate because of a new rule just instated last month that removes available funds from the account the minute the card is swiped.  So because I had bought some lunch just before I transferred money into my account to cover it I was penalized $210 for what amounted to a 15 minute technicality.  The CSRs sent me away and told me to plead my case to the customer service number.  At the 800-number I was eventually able to talk to “a manager” Jessica, who read me the verbiage that had appeared on customer statements about this change.  So, indeed, the charges are apparently my fault.  Thankfully, Jessica gave me a courtesy refund for 3 of them, which helps a little. 

My complaint is about this new policy.  It makes you just like every other bank.  It is the reason I left Chase.  I thought BoA was different!  And I have recommended BoA to MANY of my artist friends because of that flexibility and that, until now, I have had nothing but wonderful experiences with your employees and with my account management. 

Unfortunately, the remaining $105 that is now tied up in fees will ensure that my rent check this month bounces which means I will be charged more fees in addition to NSF fees from my rental company, and it is all I had budgeted for food for the first two weeks of this month.  The good news is I just got a promotion at work which will, in another month, enable me to pick up and repay this set-back, sign up for automatic deposits, get money into my Savings account that might actually stay there and start to invest in some sort of stability for my future. 

I’m just going to have to think long and hard about whether I want to continue doing all of those things with your bank. 

Thank you for your time. 

Jennifer

(Photo: The Consumerist)

Comments

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  1. Anks329 says:

    Congrats to Jennifer on getting the fees reversed. A nice polite letter will sometimes do great things.

  2. Umisaurus says:

    I’m so happy it worked out for her. Her letter was really well written.

    The overdraft rules are always a bit sketchy, in my opinion. Sometimes you just get a nice CSR on the line that’ll help out, though. I remember when, years ago, I had bought an item running my transaction through as credit, and was planning on depositing the money later on that afternoon. When I realized that the money I expected was not available, I called up Bank of America and the super-awesome CSR put the couple of transactions I had made that day on hold for 24 hours so I didn’t have to worry about the fees. My branch has reversed overdraft fees for me as well when they were due to extenuating circumstances.

  3. ChipMcDougal says:

    See that, even when you want to scream as loud as you can, a simple, polite letter will almost always be more effective.

  4. socalrob of the 24 and a half century says:

    I’m glad you have had better luck dealing with BofA than I ever had. I got them to reverse a fee 2 times for their incompetence with handling my account. But other than that they basically gave me the finger and I left.

    Now correct me if I’m wrong, which I most likely am, do they or do they not make money (interest or something similar) using the money that we deposit into our accounts? Something like we have X dollars in our account that they can use to do whatever with since its technically now digital and can be shifted easily, while keeping cash on hand at a branch to be able to give us that money back if we ask for it?

    If that is how it works, are they just losing that much money that they have to up the account fees and change over draft policies, cancel programs without telling you then charging you for it etc…

  5. lua21 says:

    “I am a dedicated online banker. I love Bank of America’s to-the-minute online status updates.”

    Up to the minute my arse. My husband I and log into our BoA account frequently to check our balance to ensure we have enough if we want to go grab a bite to eat, get gas, pay a bill etc. We see that we have a sufficient balance only to find about a week later that we have SEVERAL overdraft charges and a whole heap of transactions that have gone through on the same day, even if the purchases/bill payments have been paid on separate occasions and days before seeing we still had money in our account. This has resulted in bills not being paid (as just happened with us last week when we thought we had paid our phone bill only to see it was not on our statement and we were into a negative balance) and messing with the budget that we set out each fortnight as we now have over $100 in overdraft fees. Each time we call customer service they tell us how unusual that is but there is nothing they can do for us. We are now closing our BoA account and going over to WaMu to see if we have better luck. Not only that but we feel to be on the safe side we need to keep a hand written ledger at home so we can be positive that we know how much money we have which is extremely annoying.

  6. oneswellfoop says:

    It pays to use a bank that’s not full of soul sucking wastrels. That’s why I’ve never done business with them.

  7. starrion says:

    “I thought Bank of America was different…”

    They are different- they are worse than anybody else out there. They are are original voracious fee-monster.

    I was horrfied to find out that a credit card I have was bought out by BoA. I have been vigorously paying it down so I can cancel it later this year.

  8. kable2 says:

    why is it that you just do not authorize any charges that would put you in negative balance?

    Just tell the bank to refuse charges.

    In Canada there is only a single $5 charge for the whole rest of the month if you use your overdraft in a month.

    Do banks in the states offer overdraft or do they just live on ripping people off?

  9. Tsubasa says:

    I really don’t think this new rule is unfair or extraordinary… Jenn was taking advantage of the old way things were done to routinely overdraft her account and get small free loans from the bank. If you don’t have the money, you shouldn’t spend it. Or, get a credit card, which is designed for when you don’t have the money. I don’t mean to say it’s Jenn’s fault for not knowing about the new policy (since the CSR’s didn’t) or that she didn’t deserve this one-time refund, but I don’t think it’s fair to vilify BoA for this either. Everything worked out, lesson learned, let’s move on.

  10. spinachdip says:

    @Tsubasa: Well, whether the rule is right or wrong or fair or unfair, the point is that some companies see value in things that aren’t quantified. Here, someone at BoA realized that the opportunity cost of waiving the NSF was far outweighed by customer who’s happy and loyal. Everybody wins here.

  11. Ailu says:

    I am soo glad I learn of this now before I got dinged. (However, I just moved banks but still have the BofA account open until all things clear – glad I moved!)

    All banks for as long as I can remember always calculated everything at the END of the day. Deposits FIRST, then all other transactions. Really, it was difficult for banks to do otherwise. But now technology has made it possible to calculate balance in realtime. Seems our own technological advances keep biting us in our behind, eh?

  12. B says:

    @socalrob: That’s the old way of thinking. Now banks are in the fee collection business. Why settle for a few bucks in interest when you can get $210 in fees in a single day? With the direction banks are headed thanks to the slowdown in the real estate market and low interest rates, banks are now looking at fees as the best way of generating revenue.

  13. PDX909 says:

    This happened to me too a couple of years ago. 6 NSF charges in one day for every transaction I used my atm/debit card for. BofA explained that it’s ‘not possible’ to decline authorization at the point of sale and that I automatically go into ‘overdraft’ when I default on the account. Well excuse me but my understanding of an overdraft is a) a pre-agreed interest rate on monies owed and b) an overdraft limit… and c) a limit as to how long you can have the overdraft none of these NSF charges at $35 a pop, that’s just insane and if you ask me borderline criminal.

  14. Cocotte says:

    Every day I read stories here about some bank or another and then I say hosannas and light a candle in the shrine of my bank, TDCanada Trust. You want customer service? Try this for size:
    1. Two months after opening my account with them I got a call from a TD agent. It seems my rent check would have bounced the day before but she’d noticed I was NSF and popped an overdraft on the account to spare me. She was calling to ask if I wanted to keep it and to make an appointment to do the paperwork post-facto.
    2. This month, through poor bookkeeping on my part, another rent check would have bounced. Instead, TD took the extra from my savings account (which has a large balance and is rarely used for withdrawals, i.e. safe to “borrow” from) and charged me a measly $5 for the service.

    Not to mention the many, many times I’ve gotten walk-in appointments with agents about sundry financial issues with absolutely no hassle or pressure to commit to anything.

    They have me for life.

  15. ClevelandCub says:

    @Ailu:

    This is still how banks are required by US law to post transactions to your checking accounts (technically any Demand Deposit Account). Credits first then debits. The problem that most people encounter now is the holds that the banks place on check card transactions (debit/PIN based or signature based). The money is technically still in your account, but is reserved and cannot be used to cover other debits.

  16. sponica says:

    @Cocotte: I see your bank and raise you. I have FREE overdraft protection with my bank, USAA. At some point in time, when I logged in, they made it mandatory for me to choose an account for overdraft protection. My checking is covered by my credit card and my savings is covered by my checking (I’m unable to protect the checking with the savings because it might cause me to go over the 6 withdrawals per cycle). @kable2: Some banks do offer overdraft protection, but for the most part they are in the business to make money. And the easiest way to make money is through fees.

    In the end, there’s no harm in asking for something politely. The worst that will happen is that they say no, and your neither better nor worse than you were before.

  17. Suttin says:

    @sponica:

    And you then still have the option of not asking politely if they say no.

  18. thalia says:

    Amazing! Praises to you, girl. Not everyone decides to go on the polite route.

  19. lauy says:

    I love these stories…people expecting praise because they had money refunded they were NOT entitled to…I know that’s not the point of this post, but it still irritates the _ out of me…Seriously – just KEEP a transaction (previously called a check) register ACCURATELY, and don’t KITE checks, withdrawals or debits.

    @kable2: yes, we have ODP in the states. However, just like any other type of insurance (which ODP is), it comes at a cost – but that cost is always much less than it would be without it.

    @PDX909: BofA did not charge more than 5 OD/NSF fees in one day, even if you had more than 5 NSF/OD items on that day in the past. Check your Schedule of Fees and/or Deposit Agreement. If you were assessed $35 fees, that means you had OD/NSFd within the last 12-18 months or so. That policy may have changed recently with them now assessing fees based on your available balance at the time of authorization (in the case of check card transactions) and posting date of items to your account. This same policy that was communicated to customers in their June 2007 statements, but not implemented until 2008, giving people over 6 months to learn how to balance a checkbook and use a transaction (check) register. Finally, an ATM/check card transaction will be declined at the POS if you do not have available funds and/or your OD allowance will not cover it. Again, this comes back to keeping a transaction register. Just some friendly advice.

    With all that said, I don’t advocate BofA over any other bank. I just make sure I read my statement each month so I know about policy changes. Policies may seem to vary at face value, but in the end they are pretty much the same at every bank. Just be responsible and you never have to worry about (valid) fees!

  20. mrearly2 says:

    Banks don’t actually have “money” (gold or silver), and moving funds electronically doesn’t cost much, if anything. (Modern) banking is an intrinsically fraudulent business–making “money” out of thin air and charging interest on it, too.
    The bank refunded the overdraft fees only as a temporary goodwill gesture, not because large corporations give a damn about the little people. There are often decent people working for large corps, but they can only do so many un-greedy things, without being censured.

    The best policy, though, is “if you don’t have it, don’t spend it.” Too many people think they can get by on credit, and look at what has happened.

  21. tape says:

    Personally, I’m actually surprised that this person was dumb enough to do her transactions in the wrong order. If it’s only 15 minutes anyway, deposit the money THEN buy a sandwich, or (OR!) buy the sandwich with the cash you’re going to deposit later on.

    this is COMMON SENSE. I know no one has any of that anymore, but come fucking on.

  22. DeepFriar says:

    @lua21: two tips
    1. use line of credit for overdraft protection
    2. balance your checkbook

  23. lua21 says:

    @DeepFriar: Well that is what we are doing now but I am new to the country and come from a place where banks aren’t bending you over every chance they get. I was naive enough to think that because every bank account I have had at home had up to date online banking that was truly up to date and decent customer service that the grand ol’ US of A would have the same. I mean this is supposed to be the greatest nation on the planet right? I have since learnt that the United States has a long way to go in caring about its citizens.

  24. Necroscope says:

    “Not only that but we feel to be on the safe side we need to keep a hand written ledger at home so we can be positive that we know how much money we have which is extremely annoying. “

    Wow. There are a couple of archaic phrases that you need to be familiar with. One is “keep a register”, the other is “balance your checkbook”. This is how responsible adults manage their money. No wonder the sub-prime mortgage debacle was able to take palce.

  25. DouglasDufie says:

    Thank you everyone for your comments. I didn’t realize that this would
    create such a stir. Just wanted to clarify a couple of things though:

    - To the Canadian’s out there – ROCK! I am a Canadian, LOVE the Canadian
    banking system and have been shocked MANY times over since moving to the
    States about how much the banks down here charge for fees. Yikes! I was
    also initally shocked that the banks here DO let you overdraft your checking
    account on the point-of-sale transactions. In Canada it comes back “Funds
    Not Available” so it prohibits you from making a mistake.
    - I do have overdraft protection via my Savings account, but that only works
    when there is money in your Savings account to cover anything. I really am
    an artist. And I really am more than broke every week, so sometimes, just
    “not spending the money” is the choice between a fee and not eating for a
    week – there have been times in the past where I have eaten the fee (excuse
    the pun) so I could by groceries. Plus, BoA won’t give me a credit card
    because I’m Canadian and don’t have enough credit ranked up in the U.S.
    yet. Not to mention that I’m trying to be really good and pay down all of
    my old credit cards (now cancelled) and student loans – also part of the
    reason I’m so broke.
    - I DID NOT write the letter to get a refund. I understood that the fees
    were my fault. And I’d already been courtesy refunded by the Customer
    Service Manager. I wrote the letter because I was miffed at the change in
    systems (I had missed the warning notes in the statements). Even though I
    agree it’s “wrong” to take mini loans from the bank until the end of the
    business day, I did it because I could. Ultimately it was never hurting
    anyone. I made sure the money was there to cover it as soon as my pay check
    was deposited. And BoA continued to allow that behaviour. Until last month
    when I was surprised by it. They have always operated under the Deposits
    FIRST, then Credits. Now they have changed to time of the point-of-sale
    transaction.

    So – lesson learned. I know now to change my banking behaviour. Like I
    said – I keep a VERY detailed checking book, I check my accounts many times
    a day, so I know damn well when I’m overdrafting. I would do it on purpose
    if I knew I could cover it later in the day. Just can’t do that anymore,
    and I’m happy that they were kind and refunded the money. Unexpected,
    absolutely. But very decent of them as well. They will continue to keep me
    as a customer.

    Jenn

  26. lua21 says:

    @Necroscope: Never had a checking account before. Back home we just have savings accounts, no one uses checks.

  27. algormortis says:

    BofA has actually been a friendly, happy, huggable (okay not exactly huggable) for me here in Washington, where you have five big banks or you deal with a credit union. When I’ve had trouble, escalating it to a large branch’s manager got a rapid fix and profuse apologies.

    I know they’re not perfect, and i know that my credit union is my PRIMARY financial institution, but BofA is everywhere and has been pretty good. Some of it might be that the old Seafirst people tend to be nicer, as BofA seems to be way worse elsewhere, but some of it might be that though they’re kind of evil, they’re way less evil than WaMu or Wells “$7 a month for bill pay!” Fargo.

  28. Serpephone says:

    I used B of A for about three years. During that time period, they literally made thousands of dollars off of me from overdraft charges and bank fees. Most of this was due to their unpredictable, erratic posting of items.

    Two years ago, I left them. I decided to give my business to Wachovia. Although they are not perfect, Wachovia has been a heckuva lot better than B of A. The online reporting has proven to be much more accurate.

  29. AnonAMoose says:

    Same thing happened to me last month, got screwed with four nsf fees due to bank error. the csr on the phone couldnt do anything for me and made up some crap about a charge from the previous month. I decided to go to the closest branch office and dispute the fees after ten minutes i got them reversed. BoA online banking sucks, the overdraft fees were the only thing that actually made my account go into the negative, After they took them off I had a positive balance of $60+ dollars. I would switch banks but they are all the same. I just keep cash on me at all times now.

  30. PDX909 says:

    @lauy:

    Please don’t presume to correct me. I certainly was presented with 6 charges in one day for 6 transactions that were each less than $20 each. I got 6 yellow envelopes in 2 days all referencing the same date of card usage. It was the only time I had ever defaulted on my account. The only part of my account that was inaccurate was the time line. It was 5 years ago, not 2.. it just seemed more recent

  31. NickFit says:

    Just left BoA for this exact reason, except I could not get them to refund my fee. For those slamming this kind of behavior as irresponsible — maybe. But remember BoA touted this as a user-friendly feature of their online banking system. You could look online, see you were about to go over and get to the bank to make a deposit. It was pointed out over and over again by bank employees and promoters. Then it was changed, with the only notification being small type in the statement.

    Every time BoA changes a policy, it is to the detriment of the customer.

    But there is a happy ending. I went over to the local savings bank.

  32. Anonymous says:

    Bank of America is SCUM, they don’t need those fees, they get their greedy azzes BAILED out, they are bloodsucking low life that belong in jail for being loan sharks, which they are.
    I overdraw for 2.00 and get charged 35? If they called it interest instead of a FEE, then what? illegal, period. Well a rose is a rose is a rose, they are scum.