Fighting Fees: 3 Ways to Negotiate With Your (Big) Bank

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Bank fees are an annoyance, but is there an alternative besides either paying up or pulling up stakes and leaving? Maybe. If you want to keep your bank for other reasons — say, convenience — but the fees are pushing you out the door, try negotiating. There’s no guarantee you’ll succeed, but you’ve got little to lose.

1. Make your case

You’ll need to articulate an argument for why the bank would want you as a customer, says Linda Sherry, director of national priorities at Consumer Action. “Banks aren’t in it for their health.” So your first step is to honestly evaluate whether or not the bank is likely to see you as a profitable customer. Do you use your debit card or a linked credit card a lot? Do you get a paycheck or benefits direct-deposited? Do you keep a sizable balance in your account, or have an investment account with the same bank?

(MORE: ‘Gotcha’ Fees Force Customers to Quit Banks)

Edgar Dworsky, founder of watchdog site, says this is tougher at big banks than at smaller institutions. Part of the problem is the anonymity factor, he says; big banks have more call-center reps and tellers, so you’re less likely to have a personal connection. But if you do have a friendly relationship with a manager at your local branch of Behemoth Bank, it’s absolutely worth a shot to sit down with him or her.

2. Keep your demands reasonable

You’re more likely to succeed if you’re trying to get a one-time fee waived, says Dworsky. Maybe you overdrew your account just once, for instance, or maybe you switched jobs and a month without direct deposit got you slapped with a maintenance fee. If you’ve been a loyal customer for a while and if you ask nicely, even the biggest banks might extend you some flexibility.

(MORE: Banks Back Off Unpopular Debit Card Fees)

If you’re trying to get a monthly fee waived, ask if they’ll suspend it for a year rather than asking them to exempt you forever. For this kind of request, you’re better off visiting in person rather than making a phone call, Dworsky says. The face-to-face interaction might not help you, but it’s definitely not going to hurt you.

3. Point to the competition

If your pleas fall on deaf ears, point out what your bank’s competitors offer, and — if you actually are — let the employee know you’re thinking about switching banks. Call customer service, explain your situation and ask if you can speak to someone in customer retention, Sherry says. If you still hit a brick wall, it might be time to reconsider the relationship. “If they don’t want you, do you really want them?”