How to Get Your Overdraft Fees Refunded

If you've been charged an overdraft fee, there may be a way to get a refund.

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Any time a payment exceeds what's available in your bank account, the bank will charge you an overdraft fee. Whether a check didn't clear fast enough, or you didn't check your balance before swiping your card, the cost of overdrafting can add up quickly -- but you may be able to get a refund.

What is an overdraft fee?

An overdraft can occur when you have insufficient funds in your checking account to cover a transaction, and the bank pays it regardless. Instead of declining the charge, banks charge a fee to cover the cost of advancing the money. If you purchase something for $100 and only have $50 in your account, your bank will clear the transaction but hit you with an overdraft fee. You'll owe the bank the remaining $50 and the cost of the fee. The fee varies depending on the bank, but the average overdraft fee is about $25 to $30. 

How does overdraft protection work?

You can avoid overdraft fees altogether by signing up for overdraft protection -- a service most banks offer to prevent the rejection of charges and help customers avoid overdraft fees. With overdraft protection, you can link another deposit account with your checking account, so funds are automatically transferred if your checking account has insufficient funds. Overdraft protection may result in a per-transfer fee, but it tends to be more cost-effective than overdrawing your account. Chase, for example, doesn't charge an overdraft protection transfer fee, nor does TD Bank if you have the money in a TD savings account and set up a link between both accounts. Most other banks and credit unions don't charge a fee if you need to transfer funds from a savings account to a checking account.

How to get overdraft fees refunded

Some banks may refund an overdraft fee if it is not an everyday occurrence. However, it's not guaranteed, and the bank is not obligated to forgive the fee. If you want to make your case and ask for a refund, start by calling your bank. Banks generally understand when it comes to helping with overdraft fees. Still, it can't hurt to explain the circumstances that led to an overdraft -- especially if it's a mere accident. Accidents happen, and it could be the result of a delayed paycheck or recurring payment that turned out to be more expensive than usual. Who knows, your monthly internet bill cost could have gone up, and you weren't notified. 

Be prepared to be told no a few times. Most banks will provide a refund if you are a loyal customer and have not overdrawn your account too often. However, if you have a history of overdraft fees, the bank might decline to refund the fee. If you feel you've been mistreated, you can consider switching banks or leaving a formal complaint with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, an independent government agency that oversees financial institutions. 

How to avoid overdraft fees

Keep track of your balance

Before you swipe your debit card or proceed on an online shopping spree, check your balance to avoid overdrafting your account. It never hurts to know how much money is going in and out at any given time. You can also enroll in low balance alerts, so anytime your balance lands before a certain threshold, you'll receive a notification via text or email. 

Opt for overdraft protection (or don't)

Overdraft protection helps you avoid hefty overdraft fees by linking your checking account to a supplementary line of credit -- like a savings account. But remember, this may also result in a fee, though less than an overdraft fee. Opt out of overdraft protection if you want to avoid overdraft fees altogether. But keep in mind that the transaction will be denied if you try to purchase something and don't have sufficient funds in your checking account. 

Find a bank that doesn't charge overdraft fees

A handful of banks are shifting away from overdraft fees due to pressure from regulators. If you aren't pleased with your bank's overdraft policy, consider looking for a bank that has eliminated or reduced overdraft fees

The bottom line

Overdraft fees can be costly, but that's the price we pay when we can't. If you find yourself overdrafting your account frequently, it may be time to reprioritize your monthly budget. But if you find yourself paying an overdraft fee due to a rare, straightforward mistake, ask your bank for a refund.

Correction, 7:30 a.m. PT Jan. 25: A previous version of this story said that Chase doesn't change an overdraft protection fee. In fact, Chase doesn't charge an overdraft protection transfer fee, but that it charges a $34 insufficient funds fee per transaction with the first transaction that overdraws your account balance by more than $50. Also, the previous version of the story said that TD Bank charges an overdraft protection fee of $3 per day when a transfer is made due to insufficient funds. In fact, TD Bank doesn't charge an overdraft protection transfer fee if you have your money in a TD savings account and you set up a link between both accounts.