investing

Who to complain to, and how

If you have a complaint about your bank, thrift or credit union, it's always best to first try to resolve it with the institution itself. Here are some tips for complaining when the bank makes an error with your account.

1. Before you complain, write a note to yourself describing the nature of the problem and what you want the bank to do about it. This will help you discuss the matter briefly and clearly -- and you're offering a possible solution, not just presenting a problem.

2. Complain as soon as possible. This is especially important when you're dealing with banks and other financial institutions, because you have a limited time to complain after you receive notice of a problem, such as a bank statement.

3. Assemble all the papers you need, such as canceled checks and account statements, and be prepared to hand over copies.

4. If an employee is unable or unwilling to help, contact someone higher up. Unless the mistake is very simple, talking to a teller will rarely help. Your best bet may be to speak with the branch manager.

5. Don't be coy when someone asks you for your name, address and phone number.

6. Threatening to alert the media probably won't get you anywhere.

If you've given your bank an appropriate amount of time to correct the error and you don't believe the bank is making a good-faith effort to resolve the situation, consider filing a complaint with the federal or state agency that oversees your financial institution.

When contacting one of the agencies, be sure to include:
  • Your name, address and a daytime telephone number.
  • Name and address of the bank, credit union or thrift involved in your complaint.
  • Your bank or credit card account number.
  • The name of anyone you contacted at the bank and the dates you spoke with them.
  • A detailed description of the complaint.
  • Letters or documents that may help with the investigation.
  • Do not send original documents.
  • Your signature and the date on your letter.

It's not wise to disclose account numbers and other confidential information in an e-mail since it may not be secure. It's best to use the U.S. Postal Service when filing a formal complaint.

The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, or OCC, supervises, charters and regulates all national banks.

The OCC requires formal complaints to be in writing, but you may first contact a customer assistance specialist by phone if you wish at 800-613-6743.

To contact the OCC by mail:
Customer Assistance Group
1301 McKinney Street
Suite 3450
Houston, TX 77010

The Federal Reserve oversees state-chartered banks that are members of the Federal Reserve System.

By mail:

Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System
Division of Consumer and Community Affairs
20th and C Street, N.W., Stop 801
Washington, DC 20551

The Federal Reserve requires that you state your complaint in writing. If you need to follow up, you may contact them by phone at 202-452-3693.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) directly examines and supervises about 5,250 banks and savings banks, more than half of the institutions in the banking system. Banks have the choice of being chartered by the states or by the federal government; the FDIC is the primary federal regulator of banks that are chartered by the states that do not join the Federal Reserve System. In addition, the FDIC is the back-up supervisor for the remaining insured banks and thrift institutions. The FDIC has an online consumer assistance form that allows you to state your case involving an FDIC-regulated institution.

The Office of Thrift Supervision oversees federal savings and loans and federally chartered savings banks. All complaints must be in writing and signed.

By mail:
Office of Thrift Supervision
Office of Consumer Programs
1700 G Street, NW
Washington, DC 20552
(202) 906-6000

The National Credit Union Administration oversees federal credit unions and all credit unions in Delaware, South Dakota, Wyoming and Washington, D.C.

The NCUA requires that complaints regarding federal credit unions be filed with the NCUA regional office for your state.

State-chartered credit unions and thrifts are supervised by the state that charters them.

Many online banks will be federally chartered national banks and will be regulated by the OCC. Check the bank's Web site for information.

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