December 29, 2007

Bank of America Refunded me $200

It's true: Bank of America refunded me $200 in fees, cut the rate on my home equity line of credit, AND gave me a personal apology.
As a journalist who has covered personal finance issues, I consider myself reasonably savvy, but I am still stunned by my experience.
My story in brief: I have had a Bank of America home equity line of credit for a couple of years, which I've never used. But my husband and I are about to embark on a kitchen renovation project, so I decided to comparison shop before drawing on this line of credit.
Our rate at Bank of America was prime minus 3/4 point, plus we were paying $50/year in fees (despite the fact that we have excellent credit and are long-time Bank of America customers). I learned that Charles Schwab offers prime minus 1 point, with no fees at all. I decided to call Bank of America and see if they'd match Schwab's rate.
The Bank of America rep said no; I asked her to speak to a manager, explaining that I'd switch to Schwab if Bank of America didn't improve their offer. She put me on hold for quite a while and came back with the same answer. No.
I was annoyed and decided to start the paperwork at Schwab.
Then I saw this posting on The Consumerist, the Gawker Media blog that covers consumer issues.
"A former Bank of America employee provides these email addresses and says they're the people to complain to about getting fee'd to death (or any other customer service related issue you want to escalate)....Don't forget that people have had good success with writing letters to the Bank of America CEO. "
I decided to send an email to the woman whom the Consumerist described as the head of "national customer experience." Three hours later, I came home to a voice mail from "Christie" at Bank of America. This was on Friday December 21.
On Monday morning, we spoke, and Christie told me that the home equity of line credit customers haven't had to pay the $50 fee for a while, so my fee would be waived here on, and that the Bank would match Schwab's rate too. Also, they had an introductory offer which had just expired two weeks ago (funny, how the rep I spoke to never bothered to mention that to me): it offered 1.5 point lower than whatever rate we'd had with Bank of America until March 2008. As a courtesy, Bank of America would extend that to me, which would give me a rate of prime minus 2.5 points until March 2008.
Christie said she'd spoken to the rep and informed her of the error of her ways, but I pointed out that it wasn't just the rep--it also was her manager. Christie apologized sincerely and said if I wanted, she'd have the rep call me and apologize too. I didn't think that was necessary.
But I told her I'd appreciate it if Bank of America would refund me the annual fees I've been paying since the Bank has stopped charging customers that fee. She agreed.
She called me back late that afternoon--Christmas Eve. The total amounts to $200 (four years of unnecessary fees!) and it will be credited to my account by Wednesday.
Some might say that the lesson here is the importance of research (if I'd kept abreast of B of A's various promotions, I would have known that I was overpaying in fees). Others might talk about how the banks are overcharging. But I think this also proves the power of the consumer in the internet age. Many thanks to The Consumerist.
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