I have to admit, I was pretty shocked when I logged in online to check my checking account statement. It said my account was overdrawn, and I had four overdraft charges totaling nearly $110. Huh? I had just transferred $500 from savings to checking the day before. This had to be a mistake. Besides, I told myself, I have overdraft protection on my checking account.

So, I drove to the bank (I prefer to handle matters like this face-to-face, not on the phone) and approached the teller. I explained the situation. It turns out the $500 transfer had not yet been credited, so indeed the account was overdrawn. "But, I have overdraft protection," I protested.

"Yes," I was told, "but that means we will pay the checks for you. You will still incur overdraft charges." I explained that this is not what I was told when I first opened my checking account five years ago, and that I was paying $12 a month for this overdraft protection. I had a "special" account. The teller then told me something that shocked me. "We have overdraft protection on our free accounts, too. The account you have gives you free checks."

Well, that doesn't mean much to me. I do most of my banking by debit card. I order checks perhaps twice a year. What a ripoff! I then turned to "super nice guy" mode. I explained that I had been a customer of the bank for five years, I have a car loan with the bank which I faithfully pay on time every month, and I had NEVER had an overdraft with this bank before, ever.

The teller called the manager over to his computer, described what a "great" customer I was, and asked if he could make the nearly $110 in overdraft charges disappear, as a courtesy. "Sure," said the manager, as if he was asked if he wanted extra ice in his Coke.

Just like that, $110 in overdraft charges disappeared. The teller also switched my checking account to free checking, with overdraft protection, which saved me an additional $12 per month. In less than five minutes time, I saved myself $250 in fees.

The lesson here is this: bank tellers listen to people complain all day long. If you encounter a problem, ask them for their help. Be nice. You may be surprised how far you'll get and how much money you may be able to save. You may have heard the saying, "you'll catch more flies with honey than vinegar." This is especially true at banks. Also, if your account is loaded with fees for services you don't use, ask for details about the bank's "free" account. Nearly every bank has one.


  1. Andy // May 15, 2008 at 2:15 PM  

    Great article and a good lesson there - get free checking/saving accounts where possible. I had a similar issue to you but my bank only refunded me half of my overdraft fee.

  2. JoeTaxpayer // May 15, 2008 at 8:18 PM  

    If can add to that thought, why stop at asking help to fix a mistake? How about asking any/all your credit card issuers to lower your rate? Even 2% on $5000 worth of debt is $100 saved for a 5 minute phone call.

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