How to complain to the bank


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If a bank makes a mistake and charges a fee you don’t deserve, hope for the best but be prepared to spend some time correcting the situation.

Here’s a true story. When a stranger’s check from another bank was drawn mistakenly from Mark Hartman’s account at Wells Fargo, Hartman thought Wells would immediately recognize the $21,000 error and correct it. At the most it would take a simple phone call. Wrong. It took 10 days and a visit with a branch manager to fix the problem.

Hartman, who lives in Colorado, says his No. 1 piece of advice is to complain in person and not over the phone. Unless you want a simple balance inquiry, don’t go to a teller and don’t bother writing to the bank president.

But plenty of consumer law experts advise making an initial phone call and following it up with a letter. Whether you talk to someone on the phone or in person, get the person’s name and title, then try to secure a promise that some action will be taken by a certain date. Summarize the discussion in a letter and send it to the bank. Keep a copy for your records because the letter becomes part of a paper trail and proves that you took timely action.

Here are some other tips for complaining effectively when a bank makes a mistake:

How to complain effectively
  • Before complaining, write a note to yourself describing the problem and what you want the bank to do about it. This will help you discuss the matter briefly and clearly. You’re offering a possible solution, not just presenting a problem.
  • Complain as soon as possible. This is especially important in dealing with financial institutions because you have a limited amount of time to complain after you receive notice of a problem, such as a bank statement.
  • If you’re calling, try to gauge whether you’re talking with the right person. Don’t hesitate to ask for a supervisor.
  • Assemble all the papers needed, such as statements and canceled checks, and be prepared to hand over copies.

It should go without saying, but keep your cool and be polite — confrontation won’t get you far and will just increase your stress. Threatening to call an attorney and sue will accomplish little other than souring the process from the start.

If the complaint process goes so badly that you decide to end your relationship with the bank, you may be faced with the final fee — a fee that’s charged for closing an account. Ouch! Read that story in the next section.