Attention, bank fee-haters: Here’s how to get your money refunded and prevent the next overdraft fee
It’s the last thing you need. Paying overdraft fees when your bank account balance dips below zero from something like a forgotten about auto-pay subscription or a physical check cashing a few days later than expected.
Yet, it’s a scenario that many of us have experienced.
Haroon Mokhtarzada, co-founder and CEO of Truebill, says the fintech company is regularly sending notices to users that they’ve been charged with an overdraft fee. In a six-month period, Truebill has seen between 20 percent to 25 percent of its now more than half a million users get hit with an overdraft fee.
“It’s just a continuous thing,” Mokhtarzada says.
It’s an expensive thing, too. The average overdraft fee is $33.36, according to Bankrate’s most recent checking account and ATM fee study. As a growing number of startups see it, you’re paying too much for an automated service that fronts money when you don’t have any — especially when the fee is a result of covering a tiny payment, like a $4 beverage.
“These banks get away with charging massive overdraft fees for effectively doing nothing,” says Thomas Smyth, founder and CEO at Trim, a company that automates personal finance chores.
Now, the good news: There are a number of digital services designed to help you deal with overdraft fees and other bank-related charges. Some of the services, like Truebill and Trim, help you get a refund on an overdraft fee, while also offering other savings tools. Others, like Mark Cuban-backed Dave, provide you with a cheaper alternative to paying overdraft fees when times are tight.
You will need to share your bank data with these apps, so review the terms and conditions before signing up and take simple steps to reduce associated risks that vary by app.
Your bank also offers features to help prevent overdraft fees, including the ability to opt out of overdraft protection. But the following services generally plug into a wide range of banks and are available on your phone using an app or text message service.
Branded as an assistant that saves you money, Trim combs through your bank data to uncover areas where it can deliver on its promise. That includes flagging overdraft fees.
If you overdraw your bank account, Trim sends you messages about the overdraft fees you’re paying as a result. Then, you can request Trim to email your bank in a bid to try to trigger a process to get the money refunded where the bank calls you. As Smyth sees it, the main value lies in alerting you about the fee in the first place — you may miss the charge otherwise.
It’s just one of several features Trim offers you to help save money. Trim can also negotiate cable bills, cancel subscriptions and automate deposits into a high-yield savings account, among other things.
“It’s all about saving people money and doing the work for them to get the savings, not telling them what to do,” Smyth says.
Cost: Free for basic service. $10 per month for premium service. For the bill negotiation feature, Trim will charge you 33 percent of what it saves you.
Who should use this service: Overspenders who prefer to automate chores.
Truebill is another option among those seeking to cancel overdraft fees and save money in other ways.
Like Trim, Truebill sends alerts to users when they get overdraft fees. Rather than sending an email, Trim can send a letter to your financial institution to request a refund from it. (It can’t call the bank on your behalf, as they need to speak to the accountholder.) While it generally takes a couple of weeks all told, Mokhtarzada estimates the approach works about 60 percent of the time — the outcome hinges on factors like how long you’ve had the account and how many times you’ve asked for a refund.
Truebill can also cancel unwanted subscriptions and automate savings transfers, among other things.
Cost: Truebill is free to download. The premium plan starts at $3 per month. Bill negotiation will cost you 40 percent of the amount Truebill saves you.
Who should use this app: Anyone looking for ways to save without having to do the work.
Harvest Platform wants to eliminate bad debt and counts recovering overdraft fees as part of its aim.
In exchange for sharing your bank data, the startup’s bot will spot bank fees that its algorithms believe are negotiable. Then, Harvest will work on your behalf to fight overdraft fees, ATM fees, non-sufficient fees and more. Among its users, Harvest says 95 percent have been dinged with some type of fee — often to their surprise.
The overdraft fees are caused by all sorts of reasons, including unexpected bills like the need to repair a car or an unforeseen medical expense. “It’s stuff that can happen to anybody,” says Angelo Alessio, vice president of optimization at Harvest.
While you could call the bank to ask for a pardon, the startup hopes to make the experience more hassle-free for you. Generally, it takes between two to five business days for Harvest to negotiate on your behalf.
Harvest also offers debt management tools.
Cost: Offers free basic service. When Harvest gets a refund on a fee, it will take a 25 percent cut.
Who should use this service: Those who need help managing debt (which includes bank fees).
Mark Cuban-backed Dave is a fintech company popular among young adults to sidestep overdraft fees with something that costs less: Instead of paying interest, you will pay $1 per month and an optional tip to get a small cash advance ahead of your next payday. Dave also alerts you if it believes you are in danger of getting charged an overdraft fee as well as connects you to side hustles to make more money.
You can also sign up for the Dave Banking account that won’t charge you overdraft fees. In opening an account, Dave will park your money at its partner bank, Evolve Bank & Trust. Like the non-bank app, Dave Banking will float small cash advances.
Cost: $1 a month, plus optional tipping for the non-bank Dave app.
Who this is for: Those who are living paycheck to paycheck and may be seeking a way to bridge cash flow gaps.
Even if you already have heard of Digit as a service to help you save, you might not have heard of its newest feature — instant overdraft prevention to help you avoid an overdraft fee.
This feature works to avoid overdraft fees by moving money into your checking account if the balance ever dips below an amount you predetermine. Transfers from your savings can happen instantly or within one business day depending on your bank provider.
Since launching the feature in August, Digit says roughly one-half of people (45 percent) get an overdraft prevention transfer in their first two months of using Digit.
It builds on the app’s primary use case. In signing up for Digit you will link your checking account. Then, the service automatically moves what it thinks you can afford into savings every few days. You will also get access to tools to help you pay down your credit card debt and establish savings goals.
Cost: Free for 30 days, then $5 per month
Who this is for: Those who identify as spenders, not savers, and need a helping hand to avoid overdrafting their linked checking account in the process of saving.
6. Your bank (potentially)
Beyond letting you opt out of overdraft protection, a small but growing number of banks are cautioning consumers online when they are at risk of spending more than what’s in their bank account. These alerts go deeper than saying you have a low balance; they predict what your balance will be in the coming days. Banks including U.S. Bank and Bank of America will notify you if they think your spending patterns will potentially make your balance dip below $0 in the coming days.
You can also sign up for a bank account that won’t charge overdraft fees, such as Current or KeyBank’s hassle-free account.
More recently, newer bank accounts are adding a twist to overdraft coverage, too. For example, challenger banks Chime and Varo Money let some of their customers overdraft their account up to a certain amount — for free.
Cost: These digital features are free. Depending on the bank, you may pay fees to get the checking account.
Who this is for: Overspenders who need some guidance and individuals with volatile income who may need some wiggle room.
7. Other options
You have a wide range of options to dispute a bank fee or to avoid one altogether that go well beyond these digital services.
If you’re a serial overdrafter, you might consider using a service like Brigit or Cleo to get a small advance when you need cash. Rather than get surprised by a fee or pay interest, you will pay a set subscription fee.
If you’re getting dinged with overdraft fees from occasional mathematical oopsies, you can sign up for mobile alerts from your bank to keep closer tabs on your bank balance.
If you have already been charged a fee and you don’t want to sign up for a new app, try calling your bank to request a refund.
Cost: The price varies by product. Some companies will charge you a small subscription fee. Mobile balance alerts are free.
Who this is for: Alerts are for anyone who needs a reminder about their balance. Services that let you access a portion of your paycheck before it’s payday can help you during an unexpected emergency.
Living paycheck to paycheck is a pervasive problem — no single service can cure it. But there are more options than ever to help bridge small cash flow gaps that lead to overdraft fees. Some will also help you get ATM fee refunds, float you interest-free cash advances and negotiate your bills. Find something that works best for you to help you get by when bills are due and payday is still days away.
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