How to Get Your Banking Complaints Resolved

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Some people have turned complaining into an obnoxious art form, and if you're not one of them, you're probably fairly happy not to be. Who wants to be a whiner, after all? But there are times when being able to effectively air your grievances is a necessary skill. Whining about your lack of money probably won't help change the situation, but if a bank or financial institution has mistreated you, then you need to know how to complain in a way that gets things done.

Or, more to the point, you need to know who to complain to.

The 2010 Dodd-Frank Act established the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to protect people from financial institutions' shady practices (among other things). The bureau writes rules, supervises companies and fines offenders. The money it takes in from fines is largely returned to the victims.

But the bureau's most useful service for Americans is acting on their behalf to get action on their complaints. The CFPB publishes consumer complaint data in an effort to increase transparency about American financial institutions. Information includes details about the most complained-about banks, products, credit bureaus, branches and credit cards.

MagnifyMoney, a price comparison website for financial products, analyzed the worst performers overall and highest complaints by region. As of April, Bank of America (BAC) was the most complained-about financial institution. (It topped the charts for mortgage complaints, many of which no doubt trace back to Countrywide Financial -- the nation's largest mortgage lender until the financial crash exposed its ill-behaviors, wiped it out, and left it to be acquired by BofA.) Of the top 10 most-complained about banks, three were the major credit bureaus, and two were mortgage companies -- Nationstar (NSM) and Ocwen (OCN).

Complaining With the CFPB

The CFPB serves as your supporter, if you've been unable to get results through your own complaints. From its submit a complaint page, select the product or service causing the angst. The agency takes users step-by-step through the process of explaining what happened and the desired resolution.

%VIRTUAL-article-sponsoredlinks%Be sure upload all the documents the CFPB may need, including receipts, statements, contracts or letters. A company has 15 days to respond to you and the CFPB once you've lodged a complaint. Once the financial institution provides a response, the complainer can give the CFPB feedback and the agency will continue to work to ensure the situation is resolved.

The CFPB also publishes all complaint data (excluding personal information) to increase transparency and look for patterns and signs of abusive or unethical practices.

Complaining on Your Own

Some consumers may prefer taking the independent route to resolve a situation and use the threat of calling the CFPB as leverage. In all cases, be prepared to provide copies of documentation.
  • Pick up the phone. Calling the 800-customer service number is the classic –- perhaps archaic –- way to handle a complaint. Have a plan of what you'd like and directly ask for it when you connect with a human. For example, if you see you were charged twice for a purchase that resulted in an overdraft charge, ask for the second charge to be removed and for the bank to reimburse your overdraft fee. If the customer service representative is unable to assist you, feel empowered to ask for someone who handles complaints or for a manager. Before you start screaming at a customer service representative, remember the adage, "you catch more files with honey than vinegar." If you aren't getting results, you can (pleasantly) threaten to move your business or reach out to the CFPB.
  • Get social. Companies hate to receive customer wrath via social media. It's visible to millions of people and has the potential to incite a public relations nightmare if mismanaged. But simply getting on Twitter or Facebook and torching your bank isn't the wisest way to get results. Stay pleasant and succinct. Most banks and financial companies have dedicated customer service accounts on social media. For example, Chase (JPM) has a main Twitter account @Chase but also has @ChaseSupport for complaints. Explain your situation; tell them you'd like to remain a customer, but that your issue needs to be resolved promptly. Be sure not to share anything personal via social media, like credit card or Social Security numbers. Hold off on explicit details until you are in direct contact with a representative. If your situation is resolved through the team, remember to say thank you via social media.
  • Take it to Congress (or court). You can always reach out to your elected officials, or get really extreme and take your complaint to court. The latter course will take ample resources, both time and money.
Complaining often works, as long as it's done tactfully. If it doesn't, then maybe it is time to consider switching to a new bank -- or a credit union.

Erin Lowry writes for DailyFinance on issues relating to millennials, money and personal finance. She's also the blogger behind Broke Millennial, where her sarcastic sense of humor entertains and educates her peers. She is also the brand and content manager of MagnifyMoney.
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