Author account: How I convinced my bank to reverse my fees

Author Carmen Chai details her experience in getting fees reversed.

I try my best to avoid banking and credit card fees all year-round, regardless of the circumstances. I almost always pay my credit card balance in full, withdraw cash only from one of my bank's branches and rely on my credit card more than my debit card to avoid transaction fees. So when I combed over my bills and caught a handful of fees charged to my debit account and my credit card, I was very disappointed.

I had two charges I wanted erased. The first was for going below the $5,000 minimum needed to waive the $30 monthly fee for my BMO Premium Plan. This happened after I upgraded from an account that required a much lower minimum balance. With the new account, I found I had to regularly shift money from my savings into my chequing account to avoid the monthly fee.

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How to get your bank, creditor to reverse fees

Sometimes you lose track of your account, resulting in costly mistakes. But experts say you may be able to get some fees reversed if you just ask.

For months, I stayed on track with the new terms, but November and December were busy as I was preparing to move back to Canada from a months-long stint in France, and the account balance accidentally dipped below $5,000 while I was shifting my money. Even dipping below $5,000 temporarily was enough to trigger the $30 charge the following month.

I also noticed my credit card was being charged $5 in cash advance fees each time I withdrew money from an ATM. The fees applied even if I went home right away and paid off the balance, and they added up to about $30.

Thankfully, I had some tips from experts under my belt on getting fees reversed.

Preparing for my request
I've been a BMO client for over a decade, with a savings account, a chequing account, a TFSA, an RRSP and multiple credit card accounts all tied to the bank. I've also weathered student loans, moving into my first rental home with my partner and other financial milestones along the way with this bank. With my excellent standing and longtime loyalty on my side, I decided I'd call them to see if they could help me out.

Before I called, I made sure my debit account was above the $5,000 minimum and I cleared any remaining debt on my credit card. Next, I decided what I wanted to ask for. I decided to ask that all the charges be taken off my account.

Finally, I called. I explained my case to the customer service representative and told her I was hoping for a one-time reprieve because I've been a loyal and responsible customer.

She put me on hold and came back with a no because they'd waived the same fees for me the year before. I pushed and told her it'd been a stressful year and that my account has notes about my move to France and my recent switch to a monthly plan with a higher required minimum balance. I stressed my long history with the bank.

She put me on hold again, then came back and told me the bank relented and would credit my account $30. However, she told me this was the last time they'd waive the fee for me.

Up next was MasterCard, which was trickier. I explained that I was charged a series of $5 cash advance fees even though I almost immediately repaid the withdrawals. The representative apologized, but said it doesn't work that way -- cash advance fees aren't like interest charges. Cash advance fees are rigid, he said, and he couldn't waive them.

I insisted that there had to be a way for him to help me. He said there was no way he could, so I countered with -- politely -- asking to speak to his supervisor.

I explained to the supervisor that the cash advances were a one-time circumstance and that if he looked at my account, he'd see that I'd never withdrawn cash with my credit card before, especially not abroad. I asked for some leniency because I had this credit card for over a decade and hadn't asked for a single favour during that time. He agreed to waive half of the fees, and I graciously accepted.

What I learned from the experience
At the end of the day, I managed to save $45 and it only took about 20 minutes.

The tips from the experts -- prepare in advance, get your financial house in order, stay calm, but push for your cause -- helped tremendously. I especially found it useful to be open-minded to compromise.

It's hard to keep cool when your bank is refusing to help you, but I continued to plead my case. If they weren't relenting, I probably would have hung up and tried again another day.

Fortunately, they worked with me. I had an advantage in that these instances truly were one-off mistakes and under rare circumstances. Now, I'm careful to avoid running into these fees altogether.

Published April 12, 2016

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