The ATM receipt I held gave me a sickening feeling. A negative sign showed next to the balance amount.
M’s and my checking account was overdrawn, and I knew exactly why. I’d forgotten to deposit a check I had put in my wallet earlier in the week, which was why I had gone to the ATM in the first place.
The good news is that I didn’t have to pay an overdraft fee, and not because Commerce Bank didn’t charge one (a nice, hefty $35). In fact, it was because I asked them not to.
A benefit of competition
You might be surprised to know that fees at banks, credit card companies, and other financial institutions are often negotiable. Many times—but not every time—you can avoid paying a charge that’s been levied on you for whatever reason simply by contacting the company and asking them to waive it.
Over the years I’ve saved by having the annual fee on my credit card waived, as well as charges for making a payment by phone (when I’ve been a little late mailing the check). Buying my first house, my father encouraged me to push the mortgage companies competing for my business to remove the many extraneous charges ($35 for courier services, $25 for faxing paperwork, etc.) that they like to tack on to provide the loan. Not every company waived every fee, but some did.
The reason financial companies are willing to let you keep your money? Competition. Losing your business to another bank or credit card company costs them much more than losing the revenue from a one-time $20 or $30 fee. Besides, for every person who asks to have a charge removed, there are many more who simply pay it, no questions asked.
Good financial habits help
That said, financial companies are only willing to go so far. If you make a habit of bouncing checks or paying your credit card late, you have little chance of avoiding the resulting penalty charges, no matter how nicely you ask.
In the years M and I have been customers at Commerce, I can’t recall being overdrawn any other time. We also were never late with a payment on M’s car loan, which they financed, and paid it off several months in advance. So the tedious chores associated with being a good financial steward—balancing the checking account, tracking where our money goes—do have their rewards.
Still, being temporarily overdrawn has shown me that I keep the cash level of our checking account lower than I should. I don’t like the idea of keeping a hundred or so “extra” dollars in the account—money that isn’t accounted for in M’s and my monthly spending plan—where it can be easily tapped. But it’s probably better than relying on my memory to make sure I always make our deposits on time.