Here’s how I negotiated out of bank fees

I wrote before about how to get your banks to waive fees, like overdrafts and stop payments. Next time you see any fees on your account, make the call.

Ramit Sethi

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)

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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.

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  1. Mike

    great article

  2. Neville Medhora


    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. Anthony Avila

    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. Ricemutt

    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. Frank

    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. Tom

    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. mark

    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. jane

    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. Kaycee Howard

    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. Bryan

    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!

  11. Ninwa

    I incurred about $250 dollars in overdraft fees. I doubt they would have been as easily convinced to just wipe those as they were for your $14 one. It’s good advice to keep in mind however!

  12. Brian

    I think they return your check so that you can use it to sue the person who issued it in small claims court as a failure to fufill a contract (the check is a contract to pay).

  13. Teeny

    I once ran up about $150 in overdraft fees, but at the time I was overseas and more naive, I didn’t even think to ask for them to be reembursed, I wish I would have known to ask.

  14. Len

    When I was a Sophomore in college I went out to the local Denny’s with a group of folks from a class I was in. When I took my bill to the cashier to pay, I handed them my debit card, which had around $30 in the account; my meal was around seven, so, while I was low on funds, it shouldn’t have been a problem.

    When they handed me the card back with a receipt to sign, the amount on the slip was nearly $35. They had rung me up for the whole table, even though the ticket I handed them was correct.

    I refused to sign the receipt, and they re-rang my bill seperately. The problem was, the first (incorrect) “payment” withdrew from my account immediately, and caused an overdraft charge. So did the second (correct) one. They did a “return” on the first charge, but it took a number of days to post.

    I called my bank (M&T) and explained the situation, and asked that the overdraft charges be reimbursed to the account, and they refused. I spoke to a manager, and she refused. I spoke to another person higher up, and they told me that they didn’t believe the story and that the only way they’d refund the charges was to have a signed statement on Denny’s letterhead confirming what I told them.

    I went to the Denny’s, and was told that they wouldn’t do that. I screamed. They did do it, and I took the letter to the bank, had the charges reimbursed, and promptly shut the account. I never went back to Denny’s, either. Bah! 🙂

  15. Anthony

    Ramit, your strategy of asking for the second fee waiver by comparing it to the amount you had waived in a previous interaction would never have occurred to me. Isn’t that like saying to the bank, “You gave me $20 before, but now you are only going to give me $7? If you can give me $20, you can give me $14.”

    This strikes me as being a situation where you are asking for a better favor now because it is not as good as a previous favor. This angle of approach seems a little tricky to implement. Isn’t using the precedent of past generosity to incur current generosity going to make the bank regret being so generous in the first place? In this case, the original $20-fee-waiver ended up costing them $20 + $7.

    In the end it worked, so whatever questions I’m levelling can’t touch that. And, realistically, you probably haven’t compromised your ability to get fees waived in the future, but do you feel it’s wise to say whatever we need to in order to get what we want in customer service situations? Or are there principles we should follow when dealing with banks in these types of situations? For instance, the “it was not my fault” argument you used to get the first $7 waived seems more sound to me. But, then, does the type of argument even matter to the bank? Is it enough just to make a point of it so that they can see that your satisfaction is on the line?

    These are, perhaps, questions for a customer service policy specialist, but if anyone has any insight into them, I’d be interested.

  16. mark

    Believe it or not, this actually works!

    I have always been exceptional at balancing my checking account, but a couple of years ago I overdrafted by only a couple of dollars. The fee was 30.00, which I thought was outrageous. I was angry, but was as calm and polite as I could be with the service rep on the phone, and sure enough, he was happy to waive the fee for me. I suspect a lot of it had to do with my attitude.

  17. Jon

    I ALWAYS call for removal of bank fees. It’s as if they KNOW that they’re bogus, and make money from the people who DON’T call! They always put the $$$ back in when I do.

  18. Russell

    Now I often do the same thing, but I have run into the same dilemma twice now. Basically, I ordered two services with free 30 day trials, and canceled both within the first week. Both times, one month later, I was charged by the companies for the services never rendered. Both were for about $40 when I had only $20-$30 in my checking account. I hadn’t done anything wrong, but I was charged for the services plus the fees. My bank’s line was that it wasn’t a bank error, they couldn’t help me. The company’s line was that they couldn’t pay my overdraft fees. So I was stuck paying for something I canceled because two other companies were screwing me. Does anybody have a solution in these cases?

  19. Ed

    Better advice:

    Keep $500-$1000 in your bank account, and act like it doesn’t exist. Sure it takes some self control, but the time you’ll save not being on the phone with bank reps will be worth it.

    • judy

      But you would miss out on the personal interaction with the bank reps and the learning from that call. This is the meat of life.
      The point of the article is how to be rich- either increasing your income or reducing your debt or doing both.
      If everyone just paid without questioning then banks would double then triple etc fees so you are making the world a better place by questioning and asking for reduced fees.

  20. gary

    i used to work for wells fargo for 3 years; that 3 month thing is a guideline, not a policy, and only applicable to phone bankers. If you were polite and honest, i would reverse fees 100% of the time in my old bank.
    p.s. – on that picture of the check, you didn’t blur out the wells fargo account number at the top of check 😉

  21. Gary

    Avoid the hated bogus fees in the first place simply by not doing business with the money grubbing commercial mega-banks that try to gouge you with them.
    I mean, why on earth would you want to do any business,
    let alone bank, at an institution with which you have an adversarial relationship.
    You’re a customer, for heaven’s sake!
    Would you tolerate being treated like that by, say, your grocery store?

    I do all my banking with my friendly local Credit Union.
    I strongly suggest looking into it.
    I cannot remember the last time my CU charged me a fee.
    Highly recommended, by me at least.

  22. Roy Gerbil

    I’m with US Bank and they refused to remove over $100 in fees for me. I tried both over the phone and I went to the bank in person. I don’t know why they wouldn’t remove them. It was obvious that the buildup of overdraft fees was causing even more overdraft fees.

  23. Crys

    I recently had $100 in NSF fees when my check was deposited late due to some error. I called up and asked to have at least half of them removed, and they did, which was a big help 🙂 The same goes for getting your credit card APR lowered. I called up and asked for them to lower my APR, and they did.

  24. Ryan

    I’m with Wells Fargo, and due to an admitted fault of my own (a recurring quarterly charge I forgot about), my account went under the limit and I was charged over $150 in overdraft fees. This was almost a month ago.

    Thanks to your advice, I just called and the (very helpful and pleasant) lady said they were limited to removing $100 worth of charges, but I decided to take what I could get. Two minutes later, my account is $100 richer (the refund was instantaneous) and it feels great! Thanks for the advice!

  25. Dan

    I had two overdrafts because a direct deposit didn’t go in like it usually did. A couple days later I was in the bank opening a new savings account and just happened to mention the overdrafts. The manager said I can wipe those out for you because you are opening a new account. Something to keep in mind. This isn’t the first time I’ve had some fee removed. Just be friendly but assertive/persistent and most banks will let you off if you aren’t habitual at getting banking fees.

  26. Scott

    A major travel website charged me more than double than what I had agreed to pay for a plane ticket; apparently the airline had jacked the price up between the time that I selected the fare and when the charge actually went through. I found this out AFTER my flight, as I had bought the ticket the day before the flight. I reviewed the sites terms and conditions, and saw that they make no provision for that sort of thing happening, and that I should be in the clear. So I called them and asked that they refund the amount over what I agreed to pay. It took a few weeks (I wasn’t calling every day, i was pretty busy with other things at the time), and I spoke to 6 different representatives, but they finally reimbursed me. Persistence was the key, and having a knowledge of their terms and conditions helped, too.

  27. melisa siler

    how many times can a bank return a check and charge you for it, i was once charged 225.00 because they (the other bank) called my bank to see if the money was in my account. can they charge me for that

  28. Amr @ ninjamoney

    Great article..I don’t think enough people negotiate the small things in life. I never go down without a fight. Even if it’s just at the checkout counter at Walmart. The bottom line is be charming and calm, make them “feel” your story…Because in the end, they (whomever you are arguing with) work for someone else and have been through the same thing.

    You can read more about investing and my rags-to-riches life
    Amr T

  29. Sara

    I would like to start off by saying I have horrible history with my bank. By horrible i mean I have literally personally paid to employ half of their workers with the amount of fees on top of fees I have paid for. Using my better judgment i decided it would be a wise decision to throw away my checkbooks. I have never complained about the ridiculous fees because I take full responsibility for my stupid ness. This last time I needed to bring my account out of the hole seamed nearly impossible. I decided it wouldn’t hurt to call and ask to have a few fees waived. I was very polite honest and direct with the 3 people i spoke to before they came to the agreement to waive my fees. DONT TAKE NO FOR AN ANSWER! After informing me they waived 250 dollars in fees already this year for me (not to my knowledge) I informed them of the MUCH larger amount of fees I paid which couldn’t even compare. I thanked them for that and kept asking to speak to the supervisor of the previous person who denied me the fee removal until I got my way. They removed the fees and I finally got my account current. If you ask to speak with different people they will tire of you and give you what you want.

  30. Jeremy Shuey

    I talked my way out of a credit card payment of 546.64. The deal was five months prior I used this card I never use, my aunt charged 69.35 on the card. Two months later I got a bill for 129.35(estimation) for late charges and fee.. I explained that i never knew of the bill and would be more than happy to take care of this. Though I did explain I wouldn’t be paying any fees on this.. They wiped off the fees. i asked what my total bill was and the man said 63.35. So I paid this amount, and then took the card away from my aunt since she didn’t tell me she used it…Five months later I get a call from the card company, my new bill was over 500$.. I freaked out NO NO NO I paid this charge…well we talked for awhile they wiped out all fees and overcharges. It was all because the first gentleman didn’t know how to do math.. that almost cost me a lot!

  31. Tom

    I used to work for a fairly large bank that operates in New England, Mid Atlantic, and Midwest. After three years there, I had the responsibilities of being a Teller, Customer Service Rep, and Weekend Supervisor (at the same time). The most important thing that I can tell you is NEVER to be rude do the people handling your money. We have a lot more power than you might think. While I never abused this power, it would be easy to do so.

    For example, Tellers have the power to decide that you seemed “suspicious” that day while doing your transaction. While this is intended to protect you from someone fraudulantly accessing your account, I, as a Teller, had the power to place an “all funds hold” on your account, which would essentially freeze your entire account until you came back to see me and prooved to my satisfaction that you were actually the account holder.

    Additionally, when it came to removing fees, I often had a lot more latitude than the “policy” allowed. If you were mean to me, the policy would back me up and you wouldn’t get your money, but if you were kind, I’d nearly always let you slide (assuming that you didn’t abuse it).

    My last piece of advice is two-fold: Experienced employees of a bank often have much higher authority and know the system well enough to be able to do things that other, newer employees don’t. Find one of these employees and BE PROACTIVE! Build a relationship with them. Ask for them when you come to the bank, and GIVE THAT PERSON ALL OF YOUR NEW BUSINESS! If you need a savings account, a mortgage, or anything else, go to that person. When you incur fees, this employee will know that you help them with their sales goals and will be much more inclined to help you.

    Don’t mess with the person who manages your money!

  32. Gordon McGregor

    thanks for this. You saved me $40 today for a late fee on a credit card. Called up, politely asked for it to be waived and they said ‘sure!’

    So thanks again.

  33. JoJo


    I recently accumulated over $1000 in overdraft fees due to a misplaced transfer from savings. Having already had a $20 fee waived, the bank said nay.

    Any suggestions?…besides obviously never over-drafting again.

  34. Ita Maulani

    Your story is very interesting. You are very persistent in negotiating a credit card so that you finally succeeded. People who can do as you are very rare. Thank you.

  35. Natalie

    Holy cow! I did not believe that would work. Called them to waive silly ATM fee. Gone. Thank you Ramit! I feel like you just treated me out to PinkBerry (yum).

    On a side note, I am traveling to Europe and wanted to ensure there wouldn’t be any atm fees while abroad. By this point in the conversation, I was so surprised and grateful that I asked *if* they could waive any fees. The question was my mistake in the first place. Either way, they said that there was a 2% fee for using the credit card abroad and that the institution would charge an ATM fee either way. Perhaps the best option is to call after the two week trip and add up all the fees and request for them to be waived? Thoughts on this, IWTs!

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  37. Reta

    Me: The reason for my call today is to remove fees on my account
    Rep: something about no guarantee it will be removed.
    Me: Silent.
    Rep: Ok, I have put in a request here. It looks like I was able to remove one of the two fees.
    Me: Thank you. Would you kindly try the second one?
    Rep: Sure…….. The system is only allowing me to remove one.
    Me: (happy I was able to remove at least one) Oh, alright. Thank you.

    Darn. Should have escalated to a supervisor. Perhaps I will try again tomorrow.

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