Cover Story: Bank customers striking back

By Jeff Atkinson - bio | email

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Upset over credit card interest rates and overdraft fees, bank customers are strking back.  In our Cover Story PrimeTime's Jeff Atkinson reports on how to make sure your complaint gets resolved.

The number of complaints against banks, has really skyrocketed.  Especially since the beginning of the year when banks started jacking up interest rates on credit cards and the fees they charge for covering an overdraft on your checking account.

And what's really brought out peoples' ire.. these are the same banks who got billions of taxpayer dollars in bailout funds.

But could the tide be turning?

"Let's see what we have on Bank of America today."

He looks at the large number of complaints that have come into the Charlotte Better Business Bureau office.. from Bank of America customers.

Because the bank's based here.. any complaint made to the BBB about B of A from anywhere in the U.S. winds up here.

And BBB President Tom Bartholomy says, "Complaints have increased against Bank of America and against all banks really."

In 2007 the Charlotte Better Business Bureau logged 1-thousand-700 complaints against Bank of America.

One year later.. it was 2,100.  This year it's already at that number and the year's not over.

"Not just people complaining about them but they were rally upset about it."

Banks started raising interest rates on credit cards and overdraft fees as some consumers started defaulting.

It happened to coincide with the banks receiving billions of TARP money from the federal government.

When B of A raised her credit card interest rate from 13 percent to a whopping 30 percent Ann Minch went on You Tube and said she wouldn't pay till B of A came down.

"Because you guys are getting your money from the Fed at zero percent or at the most point-25 percent that 12-point 99 percent is more than generous profit margin for you," she said.

But it's not just Bank of America.. complaints about Wachovia and other big banks also on the rise.

And it's not just credit cards.. overdraft fees on checking accounts and debit cards have gone through the roof.

The banks expecting to pull in 38 and a half billion dollars this year.

Look at what they made off overdraft fees ten years ago.. in 1999, $18 Billion.

"Consumers made their voices heard."

The BBB's Tom Bartholomy says the sounding off has paid off.

B of A.. Wachovia now Wells Fargo and others this week annouced they would stop charging customers who overdraw by small amounts.

Why the change?  Bartholomy says they reached a tipping point.

"When a situation reaches a tipping point that there's more costs than there is benefit from having this type of fee.. they're going to roll it back."

Congress is also threatening to come down hard on the banks on overdraft fees.. which may be another reason they're cleaning up their act now.

So what do you do if you have a complaint?

Try going to the bank directly.. if you're not satisfied.. go onto the Better Business Bureau web site and file your complaint directly.

Bank of America for example has a method they can access the BBB's complaints right away.. speeding up the process.

It's brought the days to close from 45 days to 16.. Right now, the BBB says Bank of America has no outstanding unresolved complaints.