A Six Step Guide to Asking for Fee Forgiveness

by Kevin on September 1, 2008

I told you I wasn’t perfect on Friday. One slip up had suddenly cost us $100 in credit card and bank fees. I’m going to show you how I fixed the issue and cleaned up the mess I created. We’ll call it a six step guide to asking for fee forgiveness.

What if we just ignored the fees?

I did make a mistake. I’ve “earned” these fees. I could just pay them and forget about it. It might be easier. I wouldn’t have to make any phone calls, deal with anyone in customer service. So my bank account is down a little bit. I’ve got more important things to do with my time.

Some people might consider this as a realistic option. I don’t. I thought the fix would be an uphill battle, but with a definite possibility for success. What if I had a consistent problem? Suddenly I’m losing money every month to fees. I’m going to stop this where I can.

Here are six steps to take to ask for forgiveness from any of your financial institutions.

Six Steps to Asking for Fee Forgiveness

Step One: Be aware you have incurred a fee.

If your financial life is in such chaos that you don’t know how many overdraft or interest charges you receive each month you can’t possibly start to fix anything. Awareness is key in making change in your life (financial or otherwise). Spending fifteen minutes gathering your statements together and checking for fees is a good first step.

Step Two: Gather your evidence

If you’re planning on fighting the fees you need to know when, why, and how they occurred. Again, your statements are a good plus to start. Pull up your credit card account online or grab the paper statement; do the same with your bank account information. Highlight or circle the dates of different instances — when you sent in payment, when it was processed, when the fees hit your account, etc. This will help you keep track of everything when you talk to a representative.

Step Three: Call customer service

The next step is to get on the phone with a customer service representative. Not sure which number to call? Try looking for your company at Get Human, a website that lists how to get to a live human being for a large number of corporations. Remember to take good notes while you are on the phone with the representative. The Consumerist gives several tips on how to record customer service conversations if you think it is necessary. At the very least get the rep’s ID number, first name, and direct extension or phone number.

Step Four: Ask nicely and leverage yourself

Once you get through the automated call system and get a real live human being on the phone, remember to be polite. This seems rather simple, but how many times have you gotten extremely frustrated from the fifteen minute wait and “new” call answering service that won’t let you to a human until you answer the right questions.

So be polite as you talk to the representative. Explain your situation. Explain what happened in full detail. Don’t raise your voice, don’t yell. Ask them to waive the fee. Leverage your status as a great customer (if it’s true). The total value stream of your business over your entire lifetime can be very valuable to the firm. For example, assume you’ve got cell phone service with Carrier A. Carrier A gets $50 per month from you for service. They want to keep you for as long as possible — month after month after month. If you’ve got a $50 problem that they can take care of and keep you for another two years, it is a good business decision to make the customer happy. So use this information to leverage your status as a customer.

Also, don’t threaten to tell the world about what you’ve put up with thus far with the company. Threats won’t convince anyone to work with you.

Step Five: Escalate the call

If you don’t receive a satisfactory answer from the representative you are speaking with simply escalate the call. Ask to speak to a supervisor. If “they’re unavailable” or “on another line”, ask to leave a message and move on.

Most companies have a super secret customer service level at the Executive Office. Again, you can use Consumerist to search for the phone line (search: “executive customer service” with the company name). The Executive Customer Service is there as a last line of defense. You could send letters and e-mails to the CEO (most major company CEO contact information can be found online), but it won’t reach him/her. It goes to customer service. These people are the best of the best. They know how to fix your problem. Nine times out of ten you can get resolution at this level.

Step Six: Make behavior changes to avoid fees in the future

The last key point here is you can only argue against fees every so often. If you pay your bill late every month you won’t get much help from customer service. You have to change your behavior to avoid these fees in the future. Set up automatic bill pay. Maintain a buffer in your checking account so you don’t have to purchase overdraft protection, essentially self-funding your own overdraft protection. Make changes so you won’t have to go through this again.

How I Fought the Fees

I pretty much stuck to the plan above. I contacted American Express and my local bank. The bank removed the first fee without question. However, when AMEX came back in and hit the account again they said they were unable to remove the fee and I would have to ask AMEX to take care of it.

The first rep I talked to was pretty helpful, but had to transfer me to the voicemail of a supervisor. I then called Executive Customer Service and got excellent service — although the guy was a bit of a smartass and reminded me a few times that this was all my fault. That was a bit of a surprise, but I didn’t much care since he said he could take care of it.

I had to fax up a record from the bank showing when the fees hit. AMEX reversed the finance charge on my account and also paid for the additional bank fees.

It took a little bit of time, but a few calls and faxes later and the problem was taken care of. I ended up not paying a single fee for the entire fiasco.

As part of step six, I removed the local bank account from my AMEX payment area. I can’t seem to find an auto-payment option for AMEX, but now when I pay there is only one account that it could possibly come out of.

End result? $100 in fees wiped out, I get to keep my money, and I’m still satisfied with my credit card company.

If you’ve fought fees with any of your companies, leave a comment and share with everyone how you did it. I’d be interested to see what the largest dollar amount of fees waived has been.

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Richard @ Student Scrooge September 1, 2008 at 12:47 pm

Well done getting the fees reversed — I think that, as a general rule, it is worth at least a minimal effort since many times you can get them reversed without much effort.

I think step four is the key step — be extremely nice on the phone and ask that they try to help you get the fee reversed. I’m not quite sure the extent to which you can leverage your loyalty with a customer service rep; it my experience, they either have the power to or don’t at that level, and your attitude will have a larger impact than your loyalty. At higher levels, where there is more latitude, I think loyalty can come into play.

I’d also caution that reaching out to the executive offices should be a judiciously-used move. You had a fair amount of money at stake, so I think I would have done it in your place, but these people can take care of almost *any* problem and I hate to waste a favor on a simple fee.

Mrs. Accountability September 1, 2008 at 1:27 pm

I’m glad you got the fees waived and got your money back. Great post.

Russell September 2, 2008 at 9:11 am

I usually extend Step Four (act nice) into act foolishly bewildered. Particularly if there is some confusing aspect to the fee. Often if a late payment arrived in between the Due date and the Statement date, the payment appears on the new statement but you get the late fee anyway. I act befuddled as to how banks and money work, and ask someone to please hold my hand and explain it. I’ve had fees removed and four months of interest rate increase reversed and credited. Of course it helps if you have a clean (perfect) past history with the account.

I recently had a similar situation with my telephone company, I’ve started working from home and added national long distance service to my telephone. The first bill came and it was over $300, I called and said I don’t understand, I thought it was $30 a month and no charges for the calls. The agent said I ordered it online, I said sure it said push this button to upgrade, didn’t that work? (Evidently I ordered the wrong thing, those computers are so darn confusing; it’s a good thing the telephone company doesn’t have record of my occupation as computer software engineer.) Again it helped that statements dated July 7 only include calls through about June 30. I said after receiving the July 7 statement with no long distance charges, I figured it was okay, and I proceeded to make lots of calls. (I also said I’ve just left my job and had to make these calls, well it’s true I did leave my old job.) My bill was adjusted to about $60 and the long-distance service was retroactively added to my telephone.

Another benefit to using the befuddled approach, if you don’t get the results you want from the first call, you can always call again and get a different representative. Start again saying that I called yesterday (because their records will show it) but I still don’t understand, I’m so confused. You might hit a more sympathetic ear that time, without escalating above the first-call level.

Russell September 2, 2008 at 9:14 am

(To clarify, I thought it was supposed to be $30 Additional for the service, it turns out actually $45 Additional so my bill should be about $70 total. I don’t know how she ended up with a total of only $60 I’ll find out when I get the updated bill next month.)

Kevin September 3, 2008 at 10:11 pm

@Russell: I like it. And truly, for some people, it isn’t bluffing when you say you don’t understand. They name some of those fees so oddly that you just don’t know what you are really paying for.

Russell September 27, 2008 at 8:04 am

This is a dubious thing to brag about, but I had another experience yesterday with fees. I’m in transition between employment and self-employment so I went awhile without any income, since I now bill at the end of the month for my services. I also had expenses for setting up a home office. In July I took advantage of a balance transfer offer for 0% interest for 12 months to fund some of those expenses. I also enrolled in paperless billing for that account.

I received my paperless (e-mail) bill this week. And discovered I had forgotten about this account, and had not received ANY bill last month (neither paper nor e-mail). As a result there was a late fee and the balance transfer offer was revoked, my new rate will be over 19%.

I called and asked, almost in a surprised way, when did I change to paperless billing? “It was in July.” I don’t understand why I wouldn’t have received an e-mail in August for my bill. “Maybe you have the spam filter.” I don’t understand why I have received so many OTHER e-mail from you without problem.

I admit this was my mistake forgetting when payment is due, but I saved your company 42 cents and it cost me $70, that was the big mistake on my part. Put me onto paper billing right away. And I’ll find a way to pay this balance or take it to another bank that will do better at keeping my account. (Said in a frustrated way, not a threatening one.)

I was put on hold at this point, while the paper billing was being enabled. After awhile I was told the paper billing will resume next month, and “is there anything that could be done that would encourage me to keep my account active. What if the transfer offer were restored, would that help me? I can certainly remove that late fee, and let me see if I can restore the 0% interest.”

Allegedly I’ve been restored and forgiven completely. I would have paid the fee since it was my mistake, it was the 0% I wanted. Again it helps a lot that I had a good record with this account.

Alicia February 3, 2011 at 2:10 pm

I bank at a credit union and just recently I had $9.73 left and unfortunitely spent $10.00 got nailed with a $20.00 fee for .27 cents . I called for forgiveness and they would not. I have NSF draft protection. I have been negative a few times and notice they like to charge $20.00 fee before I become negative then after double dipping but yet say it is all my fault. I have to call and get it refunded when this happens. I am wondering if I should get a lawyer or just get another bank and be done with thes a holes?

Dental Recall June 7, 2011 at 2:36 pm

for me it is extremely frustrating when I am not aware that I have purchased something on credit and I don’t find out until I get my bill for it.

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