Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Washington Mutual

Last summer I signed up with WaMu for their Checking/Savings account combo. I've been a U.S. Bank member for over a decade, but my problem with them is their lack of locations. My primary motivation for signing up with WaMu was the convenience of having multiple locations where I could have access to my money (however they seem to lack drive-thru ATMs which is very inconvenient). After 4 months of my sign up I incurred $10.00 "Excess Activity Charge," so I called them up to see why it was assessed. I was informed that my account is limited to 6 withdrawals per month and that all withdrawals over that amount are fined. In my experience, banks waive charges like 9-volt batteries, so I asked and they refused. The customer rep told me that that government requires the charge and the fine is sent to them. It sounded like bull corn. So I got off the phone and did a little research.

Regulation D apparently requires these limits on savings accounts, but I can only theorize as to why. Perhaps some cartel of banks banded together to lobby the FDIC to create this requirement so that savings accounts don't become the de-facto checking accounts but with an interest requirement. They love the money you keep in their interest-free accounts! However, if you read the regulation, it says nothing about assessing fees to customers. It simply informs the bank to notify the customers if they do it more than occasionally. Is the first time more than occasionally? No. It further informs that if the customer does not comply, then limits should be placed on the account or the account should be closed. So, armed with some fodder, I decided to call back and finally got a supervisor to admit that the fee is not a government requirement, but that is how they deal with the issue. So if it is not a government requirement to assess fees, it is refundable right? Not since their sub-prime disaster caught up with them! They've lost billions and $10.00 fees add up for shareholders. Hell, I'm sure Killinger himself issued a decree denying refunds of fees. Off with their heads!

I became motivated to get this fee reversed, not particularly because of the amount, but because of the principle of it. So, I called a couple more times and interacted with a lot of mean American supervisors telling me "that's why it is important to read your fee disclosures" (my next blog entry) and arguing with me (well, perhaps it was me arguing with them. I had made a strong case as to why it should be reversed!). But they would rather waste $100 in customer service time instead of just giving me what I wanted. In fact, I figured I might as well get my customer service money's worth if they are going to refuse the refund. I kept going higher in the food chain until I reached a dead end - a senior supervisor's voice mail. He called back a few days later after 12pm on Christmas Eve, but didn't leave a personal phone line where I could reach him at. I could almost hear a hint of glee that he was successful in reaching my voice mail. When I got back to the office after Christmas, I tried to track him down, but was unsuccessful.

I just sent them a letter. The battle continues.

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