Updated on 02.26.12

If You Overdraft for the First Time, Ask for the Fee to Be Waived (56/365)

Trent Hamm

Whenever I encounter a fee that I don’t feel I should have been charged, I will call and find out the details of that charge and whether or not it can be removed.

The same is true for the first time I make an error and incur a charge due to my own mistake. I call up the company, apologize, discuss the situation, and ask for the fee to be waived.

Why would they do that? Simply put, if companies are willing to waive the fees, I’m much more likely to remain a customer of that company. Most companies are aware of this and are quite willing to waive a small fee in order to improve their standing – and likelihood of repeat business – with a customer.

I’ll give you a clear example of this. I’ve been a customer of U.S. Cellular for many years. They have stellar service in the areas I’m at most frequently and I’ve never had any issue with their customer service.

However, the biggest reason I’ve stuck with them over the years is that whenever I’ve seen a charge I didn’t understand on my bill – even if it should have been there – all it took was a phone call or a visit to one of their shops to get the charge resolved, and almost every time the charge was immediately removed from my bill. All it took was a simple request to remove the fee paired with some good customer services practices.

If You Do Overdraft for the First Time, Ask for the Fee to Be Waived (56/365)

This idea applies quite well to overdrafts. Often, a simple visit or phone call, an apology, and a request to eliminate the fee will work quite well, particularly if you’ve overdrafted for the first time. Here’s how to do it.

For starters, you’ll likely have two contacts to make. Most banks will charge you some sort of fee if you overdraft your checking account. Often, the business where you write a bad check will also charge you a fee. You’ll want to fix the fees you’re charged on both ends.

Contacting the businesses is straightforward. You’ll simply want to contact both businesse in turn, apologize for your mistake, and ask for any fees charged to you to be waived.

The likelihood of them granting your request is going to be based on several factors. One, do you have a positive history as a customer of that business? If you overdraft at a bank after having been a customer there for fifteen years, you’re much more likely to get a fee waived than if you’ve been a customer there for two weeks.

Another important factor is how you contact that business. A face-to-face visit is likely to carry more weight than a phone call, as it is much easier to deny such a request over the phone than it is when looking someone in the face.

It’s also important how you present yourself. Don’t demand that the fee be waived. No one enjoys confronting a demanding or angry customer. A polite, nice customer is much more likely to get a positive response. Rage rarely gets you what you want.

Regardless of whether your fee is waived or not, this experience will be key in determining whether you want to continue to use the business. If a bank quickly says no and dismisses you without a second thought, it’s a sign that you should think about moving your business elsewhere. On the other hand, if a business says that they understand, waives the fee, and tells you that they value your business, show them that you value that type of attitude by taking your business there. You vote for how businesses treat their customers with your dollars.

This post is part of a yearlong series called “365 Ways to Live Cheap (Revisited),” in which I’m revisiting the entries from my book “365 Ways to Live Cheap,” which is available at Amazon and at bookstores everywhere. Images courtesy of Brittany Lynne Photography, the proprietor of which is my “photography intern” for this project.

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  1. Misha says:

    No. “Simply put,” and speaking only for myself, if I manage to overdraft my account, it is no one’s fault but my own and I deserve to be penalized.

  2. Katie says:

    Misha, if you want to be punished, that’s fine. But if the bank thinks it’s in their best commercial interests to waive the fees for some customers under certain circumstances, I’m not really sure why that’s a determination it’s not reasonable for them to make. They are perfectly capable of handling their own business affairs. Whether or not someone “deserves” it isn’t really the issue.

  3. Johanna says:

    A cell phone company waiving a fee that you don’t understand is a “clear example” of a bank waiving an overdraft fee? That’s interesting.

  4. DeeBee says:

    I think that it’s valid to make an attempt to get the fee waived. This may or may not always work, but “nothing ventured, nothing gained”.

    Recently, I was charged a bank fee for going below a minimum balance (not an overdraft). I questioned the fee because I had made a check deposit from another local bank the same day as the withdrawal and thought that the check would clear the same day. In asking for the fee to be removed, I also learned that some checks from local banks are held longer than I thought. While it took 1/2 hour of my time to address this issue in person, I got my money back and also received important information that will help me to avoid any further fees.


  5. mary w says:

    If asking a business to waive a fee when you’ve bounced a check there please remember that their bank changed them a fee for you bouncing a check. This can be a hardship on a small business.

  6. JuliB says:

    I have overdraft protection at my bank. For $35 a year (the cost of a single overdraft), it will cover up to a $2000 overdraft. The interest rate is 19.99%. I’ve used it a couple of times and have paid it back within a day or two of any overdrafts.

    I have travel expenses for work, and sometimes a bill is due a day or two before payday. It rarely happens, but it’s a very nice thing to have!

  7. valleycat1 says:

    There is a third option-they are sympathetic but stand firm on the business’s rules. They’d be doing you a favor by waiving the fee (at their expense), it isn’t something they’re required to do.

    I disagree with Trent’s last paragraph. I make one mistake and the business won’t grant me clemency, so I pull my account & go elsewhere? Don’t think so, unless they’re really obnoxious about it.

    So, although it doesn’t hurt to ask, I’m always prepared to accept a ‘no’ if the fee was incurred by some action I took. Obviously, if it’s the business’s fault, I expect them to make it right. One needs to be willing to accept the consequences of ones’ own mistakes.

  8. elyn says:

    What mary w said. I said this in the other post about overdrafts and I will say it again: I have a small business, and I get charged for depositing a client’s bad check. The fee I charge for bad checks is exactly the fee I get charged if I deposit the bad check, so that means if I waive the fee, I am paying for that person’s bad check at 30 bucks a pop. That amounts to giving a 27% session discount for writing me a bad check! Please do take your business elsewhere if this is what you expect, you would make too expensive of a client for me.

  9. deRuiter says:

    …Simply put, if companies…” It seems that a paerson with a “passion” for writing would put information forwarward in an uncomplicated fashion and not bother to tell you that this is “simply put” which in this author’s case it often is not. This “simply put” is foolish, lame writing. Same thing with those who frequently say, “Let me be honest with you.” which indicates the rest of the time they are lying to your face. In this latter case, saying, “Let me be blunt.” would be preferable. Let me see, I am a landlord, a tenant gives me a bad check, I am charged $25. by my bank for depositing it, and, worst case scenario, a check or two I write on this check bounce and there are more fees. I should give the bad check writer his fees back? It is easy to live in a dream world with a wife who has a good government job, lots of vacation days and free health care. In the real world the small business can’t afford to give back the fees it has incurred depositing your bad check. Penalizing the business by taking your trade elsewhere is childish, immature. Instead you OWE the small business an apology for passing a bad check.

  10. Angie says:

    ugh trolls. trent using the same tired phrases is just like your tired criticisms.


  11. Gretchen says:

    There’s no harm in calling.

    But changing banks because *you* messed up doesn’t make any sense.

  12. Andrew says:

    deRuiter–you forgot “with all due respect’, which means “you’re an idiot.”

  13. elyn says:

    Another thing that bothers me about this post is that Trent is ignoring the fact that fees are a good opportunity to learn a financial lesson. Every time I have made a mistake financially, there has been an expense. That expense is what makes me determined not to do the same thing twice. Here, Trent is basically saying that, rather than learn from the mistake, you can just get the price of the mistake waived, and if the bank or business won’t do it for you, the lesson is that the bank or business is bad, and you should ditch them. That does not really help teach someone not to do the same thing in the future. The fact that this is being framed as a money-saving tip is the most offensive bit.

  14. tentaculistic says:

    I’ve called my bank several times about fees – once (in my early 20s) my simply asking a question about the credit card interest rate made them drop the rate by a huge amount (I forgot what), which actually made me pretty angry. It made it clear that they had been gouging me for years until I found out that I *should* be calling them about the interest rate. It was pretty offensive to find that the bank I had since I was a kid had a “stupid tax” instead of taking care of me as a customer. A good lesson to learn, but it made me pretty pissed.

    The current bank is actually worse. I have called several times about arbitrary new fees, and they basically tell me to pound sand. Glad we bailed you jerks out and then paid for your golden parachutes!!

  15. Marinda says:

    I once didn’t receive a paper copy of a department store bill. This was years ago before online payments.

    When I received the bill a month later, it had a late charge. First I felt the shame on me feeling and then, I felt frustrated. I had this account for years, paid in full to avoid interest charges and wham, there it was.

    I went to the store, got to the service counter, explained my situation and got the fee dropped. Paid in full and I left happy, they kept a loyal customer and I still have my credit card for that store. If you are polite and have a long term relationship with the company, ask. Consider all your options if they refuse.

  16. AnnJo says:

    #14, tentaculistic, the bank did not charge you a “stupid” tax, it charged you an “ignorant” tax. This is a purely voluntary tax, since anyone entering into a business or commercial relationship for the first time has the option of asking someone more experienced how such things work.

    Sadly, the self-esteem movement of the last 30 years seems to have taken its toll on people being willing to admit they are ignorant, though. Now that virtually everything can be learned privately through an Internet connection, maybe that tax will be charged less often.

  17. Johanna says:

    People with experience get things wrong too. What then?

  18. Joanna says:

    So you threaten to leave a company with fair policies when you have tenure and some room negotiate, when the most likely alternative is one with abusive policies who doesn’t care about you? I can’t imagine leaving in a tizzy over something that is my own darn fault.

    Ask for the fees, sure. But don’t threaten to cancel when everything is fair and square. Out of the frying pan, into the fire.

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