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Start Here: “The Ultimate Guide to Asking for a Raise and Negotiate Your Salary”

Here’s how I negotiated out of bank fees

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Have you ever had a teacher or adult who is supposed to be really good at something, but they haven’t actually done it in so long that you wonder whether they even remember how to do it? I had a CS professor at Stanford who is supposedly one of the best hackers of all time, but when I was stuck on some assignment, his advice was “Just look at it–harness the power of C.”

HEY THANKS FOR NOTHING, JACKASS. GOD YOU ARE SO USELESS!!! I’m not convinced that this renowned CS professor actually remembered how to program anymore.

Anyway, I give a lot of advice but sometimes it’s nice to actually get out there and do it. And just this week, I got the chance.

I previously wrote about how to get your banks to waive certain fees, like overdrafts and stop payments (original article: Step #2 To Getting Rich: Banking)

This week, I deposited 2 separate checks. Unfortunately, the companies had put stop payments on them. (If you write someone a check, then realize it was a mistake or you don’t want to pay them, you can issue a stop payment and the check won’t clear in their account; in other words, they won’t get the money.) Why did the companies put stop payments on my checks? The reasons are complicated, but suffice it to say that I knew the checks wouldn’t clear only after I deposited them.

Not surprisingly, a couple of days later, I got a notice from my bank indicating that they were going to charge me $7.00 for each check for “processing fees.” What this actually means is that they rubber-stamp each check and mail them back to you. Why they think I care about getting a returned check in the mail, I don’t know. And hopefully you also find it absurd to pay for someone else stopping a check (it’s not my mistake). So a couple days later, this is what I received in the mail: one of the canceled checks that they wanted me to pay $7.00 each for (click to enlarge):


And here’s the statement I got in the mail for one of the checks (click to enlarge):

$14.00 in fees for some returned checks? Yeah, right.

Remember that $14.00 would basically wipe out my interest for the year. So I called Wells Fargo up and had a nice little chat with them. They’re actually very friendly on the phone. I pointed out that they had charged me a processing fee for a returned check and said, “I’d like to have that removed.”

That’s it!

She said, “Of course. Let me just make a note in your file.” And she removed the first one just like that.

The second one was a little trickier. After removing the first one, she said, “Is there anything else I can do for you?” And I pointed out the second charge and asked to have it removed. At this point, she was very hesitant to remove it. She said “We ordinarily don’t remove more than 1 processing fee per 3 months,” which is why you see I wrote down “3 months” on my statement.

But I pointed out that they had removed a $20.00 overdraft fee a while ago, and this would only be $14.00–the only difference was that this would be 2 charges as opposed to 1 larger one. She asked if she could put me on hold and check with her supervisor, which she did and then came back. “Ok, we can do that for you. Here you go!”

And my charges were refunded. I was polite and friendly on the phone, but also direct. Remember, with a customer-acquisition cost of over $350, banks want to keep you as their customer.

Next time you see any fees levied on your account, make the call.

[Update: See part 2 of negotiating out of bank fees]

Now what?

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  1. great article

  2. Ramit,

    Your ability to pay less for stuff (especially errant fees) and haggle down prices was not developed because of a superior education or your respect for a dollar.

    It was given to you at birth. You’re Indian. We all have that haggling gene that doesn’t allow us to pay full price!


  3. I talked my way out of $150 of finance charges and late fee payments. It was stupid on my part, but I was getting my credit card bill sent to an address where no one was living- hence I wasn’t unaware that I owed on my credit card. So I heard nothing from them until I woke up to a phone call of a woman saying I had to pay $143 that day or my account would be closed. I paid it and waited for my account to get out of delinquency. After 2 weeks of sleepless nights, I called, the rep reversed more of the charges, and she even submitted an update to the credit report company so it wouldn’t damage my credit. Phew! was I ever relieved. Lesson learned, and without too much damage (I still owed on some fees).

    So yes, all it takes is a phone call sometimes. My mom’s done this before, so I’m glad I listened to her.

  4. Great post, but the part I loved most was your comment about your CS teacher, which had me laughing out loud. That was the reaction I had to nearly all the CS and phys teachers I had at Caltech!

  5. I called Washington Mutual and politely requested they remove a couple ATM withdrawal fees because I didn’t know I had to have “Wamu free checking” for the free withdrawals they advertised (apparently the free checking I had at Wamu wasn’t “Wamu free checking” and had to upgrade). The customer service agent wouldn’t budge and so I spoke to his supervisor and she wouldn’t budge. They both told me they only remove charges if they’re bank errors. This is for $6.

    I understand when it comes down to it, it’s “my fault” for incurring the charges, but compared to everyones success stories of just asking, it seems everyone else gets a lot more for nothing. So you bank at Wells Fargo? They sound a lot better than Washington Mutual right now.

  6. I was with First Chicago, which became Bank One, which became Chase. In the last year I have begun to notice $7 charges when my account would be low and a check would kick in to my check protection credit line. I called them and asked them to waive these fees as I am pretty sure I never got them before. I hinted I may take my business somewhere else. They simply told me no they cant do that.

    Ive been thinking of switching to WaMu but maybe their all like this. Chase has ATMs on every corner in Chicago, so I imagine switching banks I would still be giving them money for nothing.

    When it was first chicago and I called the customer service 800# and got a friendly voice from downtown chicago, now often I seem to get someone in India or Texas which is amusing and heart breaking.

  7. i used to bank with well fargo. i set up an account that they told me was free of account charges. when i started getting charged $8 every month, i called to fix the problem. they did, althought wells fargo charges you $2 to call and talk to a live person. i’ve since moved on to another bank with less hidden fees.

  8. I noticed when I went from a big city bank to a small town -poorer community bank (a Bank of America), they would waive fees more often. Also, a lot of times banks won’t do squat over the phone – BUT if you go into the bank in person miraculous things happen – they can do what was once impossible over the phone.

  9. I love this article, purely because it is exactly what I have been doing for eons.

    As a young female, I suppose it may be a bit easier for me to get my way, but being polite — yet firm — works miracles truely.

    eBay once ran up 300 some dollars in fees to my bank account. I walked in to the bank, told them simply “I’d like all of those fees to be reembursed please.” and they did it without hesitation. The problem all to often is that people do not ASK. So — they still make good money on a large percentage of the population.

  10. Thank you for this article and all your others. You run a fantastic website and I greatly appreciate it, and if you do go paid-content one day, you’ve got a subscriber in me.

    Thanks for all your hard work!