BB&T Customer Service Nightmare and How to Avoid Overdraft Fees

I had a really bad banking experience last week – actually, it took place over 7 days and is still not quite over. I was going to blog about it and rat out the bank, but then some halfway decent customer service changed my mind. When I logged into my account today and saw YET ANOTHER FEE, I changed it back – so here goes the saga.

Photo by Worak via Flickr


I have held an account at BB&T for over three years. It’s a regional bank that was the only brick-and-mortar near my first apartment. Since opening, I’ve moved twice and had the opportunity to switch to national banks with more branches and more readily-available ATMs. However, I have remained a loyal customer to BB&T, direct depositing my paychecks and running all checks and bill payments through that account – since my rent alone is $1500 a month, this is not an insignificant amount of money!

I maintain both a checking and savings account with BB&T, keeping at least $800-900 across the two accounts at any given time and more when I am going to pay bills. However, in the interest (haha) of earning a little more interest, I keep most of my cash in an online account with a better rate. I periodically make transfers to pay my bills, including my rent.

The Situation

I was going away for the 4th and wrote my July rent check on June 30. Knowing that I did not have enough cash in my checking account to cover it, I transferred $1075 from my online savings account to my BB&T checking. I then left out of town until the 5th.

Late on the 5th (Monday), I logged into my checking account and saw TWO overdraft fees ($70 total). Turns out the transfer went the wrong way — OUT of my checking instead of INTO my checking. I’m still not sure whether this was my fault or the bank’s, but we’ll go ahead and call it mine — I scheduled the transaction in a hurry, anxious to get to the beach!

As it happens, that very week I had made the decision to stop using my credit card for everything (earning points and paying it off monthly of course) and switch to using my debit card in an effort to curb spending. I had some pending debit card items from July 1st that reduced my “available balance” to right around $1,050 — so when the $1,075 transfer came out, it caused an overdraft. An auto-payment went through after, causing another overdraft. I called to confirm that pending transactions mattered when assessing overdraft fees. I then transferred $300 into my account from my BB&T savings — more than enough to bring the account back to positive AND cover the 3 remaining pending transactions. I also transferred $2,000 from my online savings account to checking — $1,000 to make up for the accidental withdrawal and $1,000 to cover the original deposit I was TRYING to make to cover my rent check. I made it very clear to the customer service rep that I did not want to receive MORE overdrafts for those pending transactions. She didn’t really understand my point that since they caused the original overdrafts by locking up funds that WERE available, they shouldn’t ALSO cause their own overdrafts.

Every other time I have ever transferred funds from savings to checking within the same bank, they credit immediately. Guess what — this time, they didn’t. And so the three pending transactions went through and caused an additional $105 in overdrafts. When I called to complain, noting that I had a $300 pending deposit, I was told pending transactions don’t count — OH WAIT, but when the pending transactions were debits they sure did! I asked politely if any of the charges could be reversed and was told no. I then said “I need to either talk to someone who can fix this, or talk to someone who can close my account.” The customer service rep told me “well ma’am, you can go to any branch to close your account, or I can have someone from my second level review team call you back.” I opted for the second, and patiently waited…for two days.

On Thursday, I logged into my account once more and was SHOCKED to see two MORE fees. MY RENT CHECK HAD BEEN RETURNED UNPAID — and with it, I was assessed a $35 NSF fee. That $35 fee brought my account balance to $27.  The next day, the $2,000 transfer finally posted — AFTER a $30 debit transaction that — you guessed it — caused yet another $35 overdraft.

So, to recap, we are now looking at SIX overdrafts and one NSF for a total of $245 in fees. In addition, my rent check was returned unpaid, meaning my apartment will also assess a $50 NSF fee as well as 10% of my rent because it is now late. So total I am looking at $445 in fees because of one mistake and the bank’s failure to work with me to stop the bleeding, even after calling more than once and transferring funds in as soon as possible (they were delayed because of the July 5 bank holiday).

I make my THIRD call to customer service, this time demanding to talk to a supervisor when the first person cannot help me. The supervisor tells me there is no record of my requesting a call back previously and that the best she can do is refund $60. Out of $245. Once again I am reminded that pending deposits do not matter, but pending debits do.

I immediately leave to the nearest BB&T branch and tell a relationship manager that I would like to close my account owing to poor customer service over the last week.  He agrees that I was treated somewhat poorly and asks how many fees I believe were my fault. I tell him I can take responsibility for the first two since I did make the mistake (I think) of transferring funds in the wrong direction. He then refunds 3, which coupled with the $60 refunded by customer service results in almost 5 of 7 fees being refunded. He notes that the bank should have paid the check since they could see that I had pending deposits, and writes a letter to my apartment manager stating so. He was the reason I didn’t blog about this initially and didn’t close my account.

I am still working out the fees with my apartment. Right now it looks like I will owe the $50 NSF fee but possibly not the 10% late fee. I’ll cross my fingers. And if I do end up owing it, you better believe I’ll go after BB&T for it!

So by yesterday, I had received a total of $165 in refunds and thought the whole thing was (mostly) behind me. Today, I log in to my account and see a mysterious $2 charge, with a description of “PHONE24CHARGE.” Concerned that I was the victim of one of those small-dollar scams, I immediately Googled the description – and realized that it was a fee. From BB&T. FOR CALLING CUSTOMER SERVICE!

Can you tell I was irate? Yes, it’s only $2.00, but in my opinion you should NEVER have to pay for customer service. That $2.00 was what made me pull the trigger on the blog post.

I called my old friend the relationship manager at my local BB&T branch. I thanked him for his help in getting me back $105 and very pleasantly explained that I was trying very hard to want to keep my account open but that ridiculous fees were just making it harder and harder. If you’re counting, I called customer service 3 times in 4 days. I explained my situation to the banker, who explained that customers with free (that is, non-premium, non-rich person, average Joe) checking can call the 1-800 number twice per month for free. After that, you are charged $2.00 per call. Never mind that I have called that number maybe two other times in 36 months. Never mind that those first two calls didn’t help me AT ALL.

He credited me the $2.00. I’m closing my account anyway. BB&T can thank one very nice relationship manager for keeping my business 7 days longer than they otherwise would have.

Lessons Learned

It takes a lot for a personal finance blogger and budding financial planner to admit to racking up $445 in fees in one week. But I share this experience to both highlight BB&T’s poor customer service AND in the hopes that others can learn from my experience. The major lessons I learned this week include the following:

  • Keep enough of a buffer in your primary account to meet your obligations. Keep enough in a savings account with the same bank to transfer over in case of a funds emergency. And make sure your bank recognizes internal transfers immediately — I know that Wells Fargo does this for sure and am looking into other banks.
  • Speaking of transfers, always double check the amount and the “to” and “from” accounts before scheduling the transfer. And once it is scheduled, review your scheduled transfers to make sure it was processed correctly.
  • If you ask to speak to a superior and are promised a call back, refuse to hang up until you are connected to a real, live person.
  • Local branch personnel are more helpful than people on the other end of a 1-800 line. Get to know them.
  • If you fight hard enough, you can get at least some fees refunded. But you have to ask. Threatening to close your account may improve your success rate.
  • Any bank that charges you for customer service is not a bank that deserves your business. Ditto any bank that employs customer service agents who tell you you are welcome to go to a branch to close your account.

Needless to say, I’m now on the hunt for a new bank. Any suggestions? I’m open to national banks, regional banks in the mid-Atlantic area and local banks in DC.

About the Author

By , on Jul 20, 2010
Jill grew up in Texas, graduated from college in 2007 and is currently working in the DC metro area. Jill recently completed a 9-month certificate program in financial planning and will take the Certified Financial Planner (CFP) exam in November. After that she hopes to become a full-time financial planner. You can also find her as a staff writer at My Dollar Plan.

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Leave Your Comment (20 Comments)

  1. johnny says:

    If you think that’s bad I went on vacation over the weekend and used my card about 30 times. Over the weekend charges were pending and on Monday I had overdrawn my account. After checking my account because I knew I may have overdrawn I was charged over 900.00 in overdraft fees for all pending transactions from that weekend. I was never able to receive any refunds.

  2. Lavonnie says:

    I have gotten an overdraft because of their $4.95 plus fee. I hate this bank.

  3. KJ says:

    bb&t is worst bank i have ever dealt with…just awful practices…glad i left

  4. I just had the exact same experience with BB&T except they have changed local branch managers policy so they can no longer refund more than one fee per 2 years. Well, I have banked with them for 7 years and this mess was my first fee. But, they didn’t have any mercy. It used to be a local friendly bank but the policies have changes and it is as bad or worse as the biggest banks. EXCEPT THE BIG BANKS DON’T CHARGE YOU TO CALL CUSTOMER SERVICE. I am so happy to close my account.

  5. Hickepedia says:

    This can happen to anyone who runs their account so close to zero. The lesson I’d take away is to make sure your cushion is thicker. If you’re paying rent out of this account, you might want to establish a savings account at BB&T that’s got a significant portion of a rent payment sitting in reserve, just in case. You can move money to checking a lot faster than waiting for your online account’s transfer to complete, and you can earn what pittance of interest the Fed currently lets us have for savings accounts at the same time.

    As far as customer service goes, you can have bad experiences with any bank or credit union. I find that starting out by asking to close an account at a bank tends to reduce your options from the start, however.

    I’m curious – where are these particular BB&Ts from your painful saga located? Were they always BB&Ts, or were these locations acquired at some point? I ask because my experiences with BB&T have been pretty positive – but the branches I mostly deal with were acquired within the last 10-15 years, and have some of the original staff. Being acquired by a larger bank doesn’t immediately override the underlying culture of a branch or group of branches, for good or bad. In my case, it’s been overwhelmingly good, but I can see how it could work in the opposite direction, too.

  6. Pinyo, as a side note, only their insurance is exclusive to military families. Their banking services are open to everyone.

  7. Pinyo says:

    @Michael – If you have access to USAA, nothing can beat that — best bank, credit card, insurance, etc.

  8. I’ve also had similar experiences from other large banks like Wachovia, First Union, South Trust, etc.

    I finally realized the bigger the bank, the worse the policies and customer service. Publicly traded banks must show more profit every year and that forces them to implement ridiculous fees.

    I am now with USAA and couldn’t be happier. I probably would qualify for private banking at many of the national banks, but I get such good service from USAA with their standard account, I wouldn’t think of switching.

  9. Joe says:

    I have been on hold with BB&T for over 20 minutes, I asked to speak with a manager about the poor customer service and they said NO!!!! I can’t even believe how rude their employees are! Please don’t bank here!

  10. Greg says:

    They burned me too. My account was getting low, but I never overdrew the account. I had a $3.92 charge that came through today leaving around $27.00 in my account. BB&T went ahead and charged me a $35.00 overdraft fee even when my account was never over drawn. I do believe their charges are intended to trip people.

  11. Matt says:

    I have had a similar situation happen to me today with bbt. I will be waiting patiently outside a bbt location in the morning to pull all of my money out. I wish I had never opened this account. Thanks for the blog and I’m glad to see I’m not alone!

  12. Tammy Eurick says:

    I too am experiencing problems with BB&T. I am a new customer, I opened my account online. I just moved to Florida and my husband was still in Kentucky. I went into BB&T and deposited CASH into my account so that I could transfer funds to my husbands account with a different bank in Kentucky so that he could pay bills.

    They took the cash made the deposit but when they went to transfer the funds they said they could not because they did not have a signature card on me. I opened the account online there was not an option to fill out a signature card. So I said well just give me my cash back. They could not do that either since they did not have a signature card. I said well let me fill out the signature card here. They said you can do that but it will take a few days to process.

    It took over a week for me to have access to my cash. So now I have been a customer for a few months and I deposited cash into my account after 4pm. The cash showed available in my account and I transferred a large amount into my husbands account. Well if you make a deposit of cash after 4pm it will show available but they will take it out of your account at midnight and will not post it until the next business day. How deceiving is that? So they charged me a $35.00 NSF fee for a $6.00 transaction that I made because that transfer put my account in the negative.

    I called customer service they were very rude and said they have to send it in for review because it is not a bank error. The branch manager was very nice and tried to fix it for me but the system would not allow him to because I am a new customer. I have been in customer service all of my life and I don’t think this is how one should treat a new customer. They will lose me as a customer and many more in the future if they continue to run their business this way.

  13. Linda says:

    I am a former relationship banker at BB&T and I can tell you that I am in Bill’s “25% of good people” that worked there. I can tell you that I personally did not agree with a lot of the fees, policies and procedures, however I had to pretend as though I did. It was hard trying to force the client to accept BB&T’s reasoning for the fees, especially when I didn’t agree with them either. I enjoyed other aspects of my job however I didn’t fit in there, let’s just say. In an economy such as this, banks should be looking to help people save and grow money not rip them off.

  14. Raffaello says:

    I mistakenly wrote a bad check from an account that I rarely use and had a low balance. The other bank deposited it 3 times – 3 FREAKING TIMES. That was $35 + $35 + $35 for one stupid mistake. Then, they try to charge me for their fees to that account. Guess what? Another $35!!! Nobody at the bank will reduce or reverse the charge. I offered to pay the $35 for the first attempt AND the $35 for the second attempt, but they wouldn’t cooperate. Now, I have a NEW bank. 😉

  15. Bill says:

    I have banked with BB&T for the past ten years. Two checking accounts, Home Equity credit line, personal credit line, online savings and OVERDRAFT CREDIT LINE. Also a personal corporate checking and credit line. I use online banking fully. I am very happy with BB&T Banking. In full disclosure, BB&T bought the insurance agency that I have been employed at, for fifteen years, back in 2002, eight years ago. Life is about relationships and banking is an important relationship. Most BB&T employees are good people, but 25% of all humans are idiots, (25% are great and the other 50% are OK). Sounds like you are in one of the two 25% categories and definitely found one of the idiots. But…your fault and threatening to close an account (at any business) is a poor tactic. Instead, ALWAYS ask for “help and advice” (memorize these words) in solving any problem, 99% of people will die trying to fulfill the humble request. Now, quit whining, thing in life change, including bank fees. Do not make the same mistake. Deal with it and go on. Or be an idiot. Your choice. Ain’t America Great!!!

    Humbly and sincerely,


  16. Jenna says:

    I’m starting to consider moving over to a local credit union just because there are no fees and they seem to do more work within the community. Just a consideration. But I’d be interested in hearing what people say about credit unions.

  17. Leigh says:

    I think we all make a similar type error once in our lives. I know I did. And then I decided it wasn’t feasible to have all my money working for me when there are so many institutions just aching to take it away.

    I leave a lot of cushion in my checking account, enough that it would pay the major bills many times over. In the end, it’s just better to not have to deal with fools.

  18. Sam says:

    Its amazing to me how various financial institutions, whom will remain nameless, get all the bad publicity for charging high interest rates on loans while banks change much more, but label them as overdraft charges or NSF fees and get away with it. They count on their customers not pressing the issue of getting back their funds because most people roll over and take the fees without fighting.

    Way to be tenacious Jill.

  19. TODHD says:

    The way that I avoid overdraft fees is to use multiple bank accounts and make sure that I have at least $500 in each of the accounts

  20. I can understand your frustration. I think it all depends on your relationship with your account manager. I too bank at BB&T and couldn’t be happier. Any time there is any kind of issue, I email my account rep and I get a response the same day (usually within an hour). She’s helped me when my tenant’s rent check bounced (got the fees waived). She helped when my son’s account was overdrawn multiple times (though I was glad she couldn’t have them all removed because they were all his fault and I want him to learn from his mistakes). If I have any kind of questions at all, she’s gone above and beyond the call of duty. All this is to say that pending your relationship with the your account rep/manager, you can have a great or terrible banking experience.

    Good luck in your bank hunt!

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