Banks collect about $32 billion a year in overdraft fees. The banks’ success in collecting these fees is based on the assumption that you’ll simply pay for the overdraft and not take the time or effort needed to contest the fee.
This is unfortunate because contesting an overdraft is easy and almost always successful.
Here’s how it’s done.
First, file a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
The complaint form is easy to access and fill out. The process takes only a few minutes.
You’ll need just the bank’s name and your account number.
In the complaint simply state that the bank applied the overdraft fees to your account without your knowledge or consent.
Within 15 days the CFPB will notify the bank of your grievance and ask the bank to resolve the matter.
In the meantime you should call your bank, inform them that you’ve filed the complaint and ask if they’d like to return your money before the CFPB contacts them.
In addition to the CFPB complaint, you can send your bank a demand letter based on Massachusetts General Law Chapter 93A.
According to 93A, any business that receives a demand letter has 30 days to respond to the customer with a reasonable settlement offer.
If the business ignores your letter or fails to make a reasonable settlement with you, then the business will be liable for “treble damages” when the matter goes to court.
In other words, the business could owe you three times the amount of your original claim.
Details about 93A and a sample demand letter can be found on the Attorney General’s website.
Small Claims Court
Finally, if both the CFPB complaint and the 93A demand letter have failed, simply file a lawsuit in small claims court.
This may seem like a daunting task. But small claims court is very informal and inexpensive. You’ll need to fill out a one-page complaint and pay a $40 filing fee.
Remember to state in your complaint that you’re seeking the overdraft fees and treble damages. So if the bank took $140 in overdrafts, you’re now seeking $420 plus your $40 filing fee: a total of $460.
In most cases, the bank will not hire an attorney to appear in small claims court to dispute a few hundred dollars.
Instead, a bank representative will contact you and offer to return your money in exchange for dropping the case.
At that point you should ask for at least your overdraft fees and the court filing costs.
You’re likely to succeed using any of these methods—a CFPB complaint, a demand letter or a small claims filing.
But when you use all of them together, you’re almost guaranteed to get your money back.