Bank of America customers who have lost their jobs should read this

If you're one of the millions of unemployed Americans and you bank at Bank of America, are you aware of the Customer Assistance Program that they initiated in June?

It hasn't exactly been well publicized, in my opinion. I just happened to see a brief mention in a CNN article, which described the program but didn't mention it by name, so I contacted Bank of America to ask about it. After all, I'm always happy to write about someone complaining about out-of-control overdraft fees and other banking gripes. I'd also like to spread some good news about banks, when there is some.
Anyway, Bank of America spokeswoman Anne Pace confirmed that the program is in place and explained how it works. If you've lost your job, you should let B of A know. If you have a monthly maintenance fee for your checking account, they'll waive it for three months. They'll also, "on a case-by-case basis," said Pace, "refund any overdraft fees that you incur."

Pace acknowledged that there's no guarantee that a fee or fees will be dropped, but she seemed pretty confident that if you're a good customer and simply in a bad patch, you can probably get something worked out. It's worth looking into, at any rate. The Customer Assistance Program isn't scheduled to end any time soon, incidentally. My guess is that it'll stick around as long as the news headlines keep reporting high unemployment.

And if I may go off-topic for a moment, I also asked about their overdraft fees, which were reportedly going up to $39 but are remaining at $35. Pace said the $39 fee had been considered for several months, but as the recession dragged on, they decided against implementing it. For the foreseeable future, there are no plans to raise it.

Pace then mentioned that "there are a lot of tools out there available to help with avoiding overdrafts. You used to just have your ledger in the back of your checkbook, but with the evolution of mobile banking, now you can get a mobile alert, letting you know when your checking account is getting low. There are a lot of different ways to avoid those banking fees."

True, I said, but there are also a lot of ways to get into trouble. And then I said something along these lines: "For instance, when you go pump gas, some gas stations will report that you paid $1, when in actuality, you paid $20, and so it's easy to forget that, and then get tripped up later. There are a lot of ways to avoid the banking fees, but as banking gets more complicated, there are a lot of ways to get tripped up as well."

"Agreed," Pace said. She then pointed out that because it is easier to monitor your account and still be off by a few dollars, Bank of America now has a policy of just charging $10, if a customer's account goes $5 or less into overdraft. And I'll give her that. My own bank charges $37.50 per overdraft, and while I once convinced them to waive it when I went something like 79 cents into the negative, as far as I know, that's not their policy.

But, anyway, back to the original point. If you're unemployed, and you're a customer at Bank of America, let them know. You might as well get a three-month vacation from worrying (much) about overdraft fees and insufficient funds.

Geoff Williams covers a lot of banking issues for WalletPop. He is also the author of C.C. Pyle's Amazing Foot Race: The True Story of the 1928 Coast-to-Coast Run Across America (Rodale).

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