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Man fights B of A over fee and wins

Bank of America restores a customer's free checking for life after he complained to the media.

By Karen Datko Apr 27, 2012 4:58PM

Image: A man holding a check book (© Image Source/Getty Images)The name and ownership of Robert Whitten's bank has changed several times since 1971, but one thing that remained the same was his free checking account -- that is, until Bank of America acquired the bank.


Displaying a remarkable grasp of personal finance for someone his age, Whitten signed up for free checking for life with what was then Virginia Commonwealth Bank when he was 17. It was a new-customer promotion.


Bank of America, which has recently added monthly service charges to a variety of checking accounts, began charging Whitten, now 57, a fee last year, says ABC News.

"I had the account from then until now and I discovered one day that they were taking $14 a month out of it," he said. "I assumed I had had free checking for life and that meant life." 

That offer expired, Bank of America reportedly said. Whitten replied, "But I haven't." (Post continues below.)

The clever man contacted KGO-TV, an ABC News affiliate in San Francisco, and B of A reinstated Whitten's free checking for life the next day, plus refunded $168.


KGO said, "The bank could not discuss the case citing privacy reasons, but did say, 'We typically honor legacy free checking account agreements, as we have done in this case.'"

If Whitten's account status turns out to be truly permanent, he may soon be a rarity. More banks have done away with free checking in order to raise revenue. Nowadays, you'll pay a monthly fee at many banks unless you meet conditions like keeping a large minimum balance or setting up direct deposit of a paycheck.


The Huffington Post observed:

Fitch, a ratings agency, has warned that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's plan to crackdown on banks' overdraft fee practices could speed up the end of free checking accounts entirely. The cost of checking account fees has surged 21% in the past six years, according to Bloomberg.

Have you been surprised by a new monthly fee on your checking account?


Seriously, when was the last time you checked? My bank surprised me with a hefty checking account fee this month although I'd met all the conditions to remain fee-free. The fee was waived, but despite reviews by several bankers, the bank couldn't explain how it happened. 


More on MSN Money:

Apr 27, 2012 9:08PM

When Wells Fargo notified me that they would begin charging for my checking account, I started looking for another bank.  I found 3 within a 5 minute drive of my home.  All three offered checking accounts with no minimum balance, no monthly fee, and a free check card.  One is a smaller local bank, the other two are larger banks.  They all offer overdraft protection, online banking, and all the other banking goodies we've come to expect.  I had no trouble dumping Wells Fargo. 


If you're not pleased with your bank's fees, check out the competitors.  Your bank is counting on customers thinking that every other bank charges fees, or that changing banks is too much of a hassle, or that changing your auto-pays over to the new bank will be hard, or that it's worth it to stick with them until your supply of checks runs out.  And it seems once you've been hit with a $7 or $10 or $14 fee for a few months, you tend to end up going with the flow and accepting the monthly fee.  They know this.  Don't let them get away with it.  Take your money and walk! 

Apr 28, 2012 12:23AM
Over 15 years ago I opened a "Finally 50" acct. at a local bank, with no fees, no min.  A few years ago Wells Fargo took over the bank and recently started charging $10/mo.  I reminded them that when WF took over they promised that they would honor the free checking agreement.  They refused this month to honor the agreement, so I closed my accounts.  My credit union still has free checking.
I filed suit against BOA after WE had  a large sum of money wired from my husbands UK (Bank of Scotland) account into our BOA account. The teller gave me a transaction receipt that stated both the date AND even the time we would find the funds in our account (7 days). Long story short the money didn't arrive, I spoke with our branch manage who told me "OH, BOA has the RIGHT to retain funds for up to 90 days on an international wire transfer". I was never told this and showed him the paperwork the teller handed me, he said there was nothing that he could do because it was "held up". We incurred several Over-Draft fees and he refused to reimburse us for those as well!!!! Bottom line I SUED...and at the end of the day we settled out of court for 10K!! YES SOMETIMES THE LITTLE MAN WINS!!!!!!
Apr 27, 2012 7:17PM
Please let me suggest that you all find a small local bank to put your money in.  I realize that you guys in bigger cities may have to search, but they do exist - small, local banks that invest your savings in local companies that bolster your local econom and do not play these dishonest financial games with your money.  They may not provide all of the bell and whistle services, but they are mostlty honest ansd help your local businesses in ways that banks were intended to  - to help thteir local communities
Apr 30, 2012 10:12AM









Apr 30, 2012 11:12AM

"'We typically honor legacy free checking account agreements, as we have done in this case.'"


"as we have done in this case" is bank-speak for "when we get caught".

Apr 30, 2012 10:39AM
Bank of America are the biggest thieves in the country. They raised the interest rate on a credit card after they said no interest for  a year when I transfer d balances from my other accounts they hit me with a higher rate than i had before .Then they put my house on foreclose the day they received the contract for sale just to take an extra $6000 from my profits. They are crooks and deserve to go out of business .  
Apr 27, 2012 6:53PM
Dispise B of A. They rate right there with VD and crime bosses.
Apr 27, 2012 6:59PM
Banks suck, Go Credit Union and live happy!!!!!!!!!!!
Apr 27, 2012 6:43PM

I too have had my issues with my bank.  Provident was my bank until M & T Bank bought them out and I have been with them since.  In February I deposited a check someone gave me that bounced, due to a problem they said they had w/their bank, they did take care of this later with a cash payment to me.  I didn't find out right away though, and since it was right before I received my monthly retirement money my account was down a little low, but I thought there was still enough funds. They had charged a "bad" check fee to me for this person's bad check and of course the original deposit was no good.  I sent out a couple checks, thinking I had money in there.  Two of the checks I sent out the bank honored, but charged me $35 each ($70.00 total).  I don't know about other retirees, but I sure can't afford $70.00.  I wrote M & T Bank, and since I never had a problem before this I thought they would be considerate enough to of at least reimburse me for one $35 fee.  However, I received a very "cold" letter from them and a packet of all their rules, etc. etc. etc.   Can't wait until my printed checks run out so I can change banks.  This bank has no intention of bending their "rules" a little or being compassionate for anyone.  "Where's good ole George from the movie, It's A Good Life, when you need him?"  He didn't treat the customers of that Building & Loan this way ya know!!.....P.S...forgot to mention, one of the $35 fees was for a check for $22!

Apr 30, 2012 10:50AM
What?? An American bank trying to take advantage of depositors?? Do tell.
Apr 28, 2012 12:13AM
Banks are just like Politicians & Insurance companies, Give us your Money but dont expect anything in return, WELCOME to GREEDY AMERICA
Apr 27, 2012 7:58PM
I signed up with Bank of American in West Palm Beach, Florida when they had their "Free Checking for Life" and after a couple of years they changed it on me and told me if I got direct deposit, that would be the only way that I could get free checking.  Now they tell me, because I have less then $100,000.00 in my account, they are going to charge me.  I am a disabled veteran and live on a fixed income and it takes everything I get to survive.  It's not like we can buy a home and then half way thru the loan, go in and say we aren't going to pay the interest on the loan, we are only going to pay the principle.  How long do you think that would happen? 
Apr 27, 2012 7:54PM
I have been with a credit union since I went in the Navy in 1984 and don't think I would ever go back to a bank. Credit Unions are far better than any bank I have ever found to date...I even set my son up with his first account two weeks ago with my place just to help him avoid having to ever use a bank.
Apr 27, 2012 6:55PM
I switched banks because of a monthly fee on a "free" account I had had for over 20 years. The bank later rescinded the fee, after thousands of customers left, but I'm not going back to that bank. They didn't get their extra money this time, but they will try to gouge customers some other way and/or try a monthly fee again in a year or two.
Apr 28, 2012 12:11AM

People still have their money in banks? I could understand a local bank--and I understand this man staying if they are honoring his legacy agreement--but Bank of (un)America? Really?  They aren't even owned by Americans any more.  Most of the big banks aren't.


Anyone other than the 1% should have their money in a credit union or local bank--credit unions are not-for-profit and do not do predatory lending.  They are best for the small account--the person who doesn't have all that many assets.


I can understand the 1% doing business with the bigger banks--heck, they might own a share--but for us little people, keeping our money in a more democratically-run institution which invests locally and that is not out to cheat its patrons makes a heck of a lot more sense.

Apr 30, 2012 10:17AM

  BOA are total (fudgers)*  They pulled the 'moving due date' game with me also. A couple years and suddenly one month my bill is due ten days earlier.  After fighting and (eventually) winning that battle, they tried another:   My bill due on the 24th, paid on the 23rd, is 'accepted' on the 25th-late fees!  I pay on the 20th, accepted on the 25th-late fees!  I pay on the 18th. It is deducted from my account within a half hour.  They have up to five days to process my online payments which they will use if it it gets them more money. As I said- Absolute (fudgers)*  AND we gave them hundreds of millions through taxpayer bailouts.    I wish the people could afford government representation.

   * (fudgers) is a euphemism for what they actually are


Apr 30, 2012 2:08PM

Is anyone at all surprised that BoA would pull this kind of thing?  This is the same bank that has (at least twice that I know of) lost class action suits because they deliberately sequenced withdrawals ahead of deposits on the same night to force multiple overdraft charges that should never have been applied, which meant that even after the deposit was finally applied, there would be less in the account than the customer thought, which would lead to more overdraft fees before the next deposit.

BoA certainly does stand for "Bend over America".

Apr 27, 2012 8:31PM
LUKKI:  Banks hadn't charged fees on accounts for some almost 200 years.   Most banks used the interest they charged on lonas to cover there expences.  Now, since most banks have used poor money managment practices and huge bonuses, there in a pinch.  It would seem that banks are gouging were ever they can to a life style they can't support.  If you add up every ATM fee and bank charge banks levy, it's quite enough to money to live in there multi million dollar homes.  So yes, Self Entitlement seems to be more on there part than the common worker out there today.
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