Better Business Bureau can help you resolve problems with your bank

BBB a good resource when you're poorly servedHave a problem with your bank? Feel like they've completely wronged you, hung you out to dry, stepped on your dignity, and there's nothing you can do about it? You should consider going to the Better Business Bureau.

As someone who used to get slammed with overdraft fees that I didn't feel were fair, I wish I'd thought of this. In the past, if I had a complaint with my bank and they couldn't resolve it, I'd just throw up the white flag and move on with my life, which was probably the right move most of the time. But on some occasions, I think I would have had a good case if I'd thought to go to the BBB.

I was talking recently to BBB spokeswoman Alison Southwick for another WalletPop story, and we drifted to another topic: the trend of banks being reported to the Better Business Bureau (complaints against banks were up in 2009 by almost 10 percent).

And that's when she happened to mention that "Banks have a pretty good resolution rate with us -- 95%."

Resolution rate? You mean I can complain about my bank and possibly get the problem resolved?

Here's how it works: You're wronged by your bank, and after trying to resolve things yourself, you've gotten nowhere. So you file a complaint with the BBB. Here's their getting started page, but you can also find the "complaint" section pretty easily on the home page. Your complaint will be forwarded to the bank within two business days, and they're asked to reply within two weeks. Generally, some sort of resolution or peace offering happens within 30 days. Not always, of course. Theoretically, the bank could just ignore the BBB.

But usually, says Southwick, the BBB will take your complaint to your now-least-favorite financial institution, and they'll ask your bank, "What are you going to do about this?"

Now, that 95% resolution rate doesn't mean that 95% of the time, consumers who went to the BBB walked away deliriously happy. But 95% of the time -- actually 95.2% of the time -- the bank was able to resolve the problem so that the consumer or at least the BBB was pleased. Which means that even if the consumer wasn't delighted with the outcome, the outcome was usually better than if they hadn't gone to the BBB at all.

Not that banks are all that different from any other company out there. "Most businesses in general will respond and resolve the issue," says Southwick, adding, "most of the time."

Southwick also mentioned that if you aren't successful at the BBB, or perhaps you'd rather go to a higher power, or you want to complain to both places, try the Federal Reserve, which has a Web page set up for accepting complaints. Just know that if you're hoping to rapidly get $400 in overdraft fees returned, or whatever your problem is, it can take up to sixty days before you can expect to hear results from its investigation.

Geoff Williams is a regular at WalletPop. He is also the co-author of the book Living Well with Bad Credit.

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