How to get your bank, creditor to reverse your fees

Sometimes you lose track of your account. Your cheque bounces, you dip below the minimum required balance to get your monthly account fees waived or you accidentally miss a credit card payment. That one-time mistake can come with steep penalties. However, experts say talking to your financial institution can help you get these fees waived, especially if you're a first-time offender.

"Bank fees are one of the most common complaints people generally have about their finances," says Pat White, executive director of Credit Counselling Canada.

Whether or not you'll get a fee reversed "depends on who you're talking to, and what kind of client you are, and what kind of bank you're with," says Jeff Schwartz, executive director of Consolidated Credit Counseling Services of Canada.

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

Author Carmen Chai spent a few months living abroad, and during that time, she overlooked a few things and ended up with some fees. She details in this account how she asked her bank and creditor to waive the charges.

If you've been hit with a fee for a one-time mistake recently, try these tips from Schwartz and White to ask for a reversal.

Prepare before you call
Make sure you're clear about what you want -- do you want to waive a one-time fee, waive an annual fee or get rid of interest rate charges? Will you ask to erase the entire fee, or ask for a partially-waived fee instead?

You also need to build your case by having a solid explanation as to why you slipped up. Perhaps you were away on vacation and forgot to pay a bill, or you may have paid bills out of your account and forgotten to replenish it to keep the minimum balance. Whatever your reason, keep it succinct when explaining.

Finally, get your financial house in order. "Be a model customer instead of constantly being overdrawn and missing payments," Schwartz says. "They need to understand that you've been a good customer for a long time and it's not usual practice for you to be in this situation."

Be open-minded when you call
Begin the conversation by asking why this charge occurred and how it happened.

"Be the inquiring customer and tell them you're asking questions so you can prevent it from happening in the future," Schwartz says. Then, give your story, ending with a polite ask to have the fee waived this once.

He offers this script: "I'd like to inquire about the charge on my account and how and why it happened.  I'd like to explain that this typically doesn't happen on my account and I'm a good customer who always pays on time. I'm wondering, as a one-off, if you can waive this fee."

After that, the ball is in your bank's court. Some fees are malleable, such as non-sufficient funds (NSF) fees, interest rates and over-the-limit fees. Transaction fees could be waived as well, White says.

Your creditor may not waive all of the charges from NSF fees, or they may compromise and lighten your interest charges, and you may have to accept what they offer. If you're unsatisfied with the response you're getting, you have a couple of choices. First, you can end the call and try calling again to get a different representative. Otherwise, you can escalate the situation by asking to speak to a supervisor or the retentions team.

Don't slip up again
While you might be granted amnesty the first time around, don't think you can pull off free passes all the time.

"Don't abuse this," White says. "Maybe once a year they might do it, but they won't do it again."

"The big thing here is don't be afraid to ask if you stepped over the line," Schwartz says. "There are exceptions, we make mistakes from time to time."

See related: How to fight credit card inactivity fees, Why we pay card fees -- and how to avoid them
Published April 12, 2016

Most recent Credit Account Management Stories