The Surprising Yet Simple Way to Beat Annoying Bank Fees

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The financial industry has become notorious for nickel-and-diming their customers with a raft of small fees and charges that add up to big costs over time, and most Americans simply pay the fees rather than fighting back. But in what many find to be a shocking discovery, you can often get out of fees those by doing the most obvious thing possible: asking to have the fees reversed.

A Personal Story

My 9-year-old daughter went through this experience with a local bank earlier this year. After a merger, she discovered at the end of June that she'd been charged $5 inactivity fees for two straight months. For a child slowly building up her first savings account, which had less than $50 in it, this came as a huge shock. And as a parent trying to teach the value of putting money aside for the future, I was appalled at the lack of prior disclosure on what had been marketed as a free savings account.

My daughter and I were prepared for all sorts of bureaucratic hassles and pushback as we planned how to fight back. In the end, though, all it took was making the request, and the bank didn't hesitate to reverse the charges, and offer my daughter guidance about how to make sure they'd never hit her account again.

The Forgotten Art of Asking

At first glance, my daughter's experience might just seem like an isolated incident, with a happy ending that only a 9-year-old could pull off. Yet surprisingly, this strategy works more often than you'd expect. A recent survey from found that among credit card customers who asked for a lower interest rate on their cards, 65 percent got just that. The success rate for those asking to have a late fee reversed on an account was even higher, at 86 percent.​

Yet most people never think to ask for relief. Only 28 percent of cardholders facing a late fee have asked for it to be reversed, and even fewer -- just 23 percent -- have requested a lower interest rate to reduce the finance charges on their card balances.

As you'd probably expect, factors like age and income level did play a somewhat important role in having requests for fee waivers and other cost-saving measures approved. With late payment fees, high-income households making $75,000 or more annually had their requests approved at a 93 percent rate. But even those making $30,000 to $50,000 got their requests approved 76 percent of the time. Older Americans had better luck getting card interest rates reduced, with almost 4 out of 5 people between ages 50 and 64 having their requests granted compared to just 1 in 3 for those 18 to 29.

Now's the Time to Ask

The key to negotiating fee waivers or other favorable provisions is understanding that with financial companies, you have more leverage now than ever. As senior industry analyst Matt Schulz explained, "Banks are loosening their grip on credit. That makes for a very competitive environment -- and one that consumers can use to their advantage." With many companies offering valuable incentives to attract new customers, the last thing they want is for their existing customers to leave them over what to them is an insignificant charge.

However, it's important to understand that some requests can have unintended consequences. Asking for relief from fees should have no impact on your credit history, but bigger requests like having an interest rate reduced or a principal balance adjusted require caution. In some cases, those major requests can get treated as a request for additional credit, causing your financial institution to pull a brand-new report of your credit information that can itself have an adverse effect.

Nevertheless, before you simply accept paying a fee as a cost of doing business, consider taking the time to talk to your bank representative or call the customer service line to have those charges reversed. You won't always succeed, but your odds of saving yourself what often adds up to a substantial amount are better than you might think.

You can follow Motley Fool contributor Dan Caplinger on Twitter @DanCaplinger or on Google+. To read about our favorite high-yielding dividend stocks for any investor, check out our free report.
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