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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