Bank fees are piling up. What can you do about them?

Banks monetize their customers through a variety of other fees. Here's how to fight back.

Woman counting dollar bills

We recently looked at the history of overdraft fees, a practice that began with good intentions to help business owners with cash credit. Over time, however, overdraft (among a host of other fees) were implemented to take advantage of consumers.

While the original article focused on overdraft fees, banks monetize their customers through a variety of other fees, including:

  • Minimum account balance fees
  • ATM fees
  • Late payment fees
  • Withdrawal fees
  • Transfer fees
  • Non-sufficient funds fees

What makes overdraft fees particularly frustrating is that banks know whether sufficient funds are in their customers’ accounts—and they let the transactions go through anyway, aware that they’ll make $35 for typical overdrafted transactions. One bank was even recently fined $191 million for “surprise” overdraft fees:

The bank charged overdraft fees even after telling consumers they had sufficient funds at the time of the transactions, the bureau said in a statement.

So what can you do about this? Here are steps you can take to fight back against bank fees.

  • Call your bank. Talk to a human being. If it’s your first fee, there’s a good chance they’ll waive it, but you have to take the initiative.
  • Provide evidence. Bring receipts of your good intentions, be it trying to fund your account before an overdraft hit or explaining why a payment was late. While we usually envision institutions as larger-than-life, customer support agents are humans, too. Empathy is always possible.
  • Offer a timeline. If your account fell below zero, providing a timeline as to when you’ll have the funds back in the account could help reverse the decision to charge you a fee.
  • Express your loyalty. If you’ve been a longtime customer, play to their better angels by noting that you’ve been with their institution for years without prior incidents.
  • Ask to speak to a supervisor. If you’ve gotten nowhere thus far, take the conversation up a notch. Some customer service representatives really aren’t empowered to make changes, but someone is. Taking the next step could also force the rep to expedite the decision on your behalf if they don’t want to bring their manager into the situation.
  • Escalate when needed. If you get nowhere with the first steps, remember that no company likes churn. Banks have a leg up in this regard, given the average American spends 16 years with their bank, and only 4% of respondents in one survey switched primary banks in 2018. The vast majority of people are simply willing to endure fees to spare themselves the headache of leaving their primary bank. However, if you’re not willing to grin and bear it, escalate your complaints to senior management by contacting a regional manager directly to make your intentions known (LinkedIn and the bank’s own website are good resources for identifying potential contacts). Failing that, express your grievance in action not words—you might just find better terms at another bank.
  • Use a service like DoNotPay. Low-cost “robot lawyers” help consumers navigate thorny legal issues. Originally invented to help people contest parking tickets, this service has greatly expanded to include many consumer protections issues, and could help educate you in the legalese used by financial institutions.
  • Unbank. Technology has allowed a growing number of people to intentionally leave behind traditional banking services. The combination of low savings rates and inflated fees has forced customers to move toward a system that serves their interests better. The more consumers find better options for their money, the more businesses will have to further incentivize their customers to keep their loyalty.


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