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.
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.
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.
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.