SAVE   |   EMAIL   |   PRINT   |   RSS  
Attack of the killer fees
Money Helps: Don't assume your accounts are on auto-pilot. Check your statements!
September 15, 2005: 11:32 AM EDT
By Ellen McGirt, additional reporting by Judy Feldman, MONEY Magazine

NEW YORK (MONEY Magazine) - Q. I hadn't used my E-Trade account in a while and didn't check the online statements. When I finally did, I saw ATM charges for $1,846 -- but the account doesn't have an ATM card! I asked for my money back, but they said I didn't log my complaint in time. Help!

-- Qian Zhou, Libertyville, Ill.

ANSWER Two reasons to check financial accounts every month: Sometimes things go weirdly wrong, and customer service won't show you love if you don't notice problems in time.

We asked E-Trade to poke around. Evidently, months ago another customer reported her ATM card lost. A service rep issued a new card but accidentally keyed in your account number. When you raised the issue, the card appeared to be linked to your account. Due to the time limit, they didn't dig further.

You could have asked for an investigation, which we did. Once E-Trade pieced it together, they admitted the error and returned the money to your account. The customer who was making the withdrawals has been contacted -- one call I'm glad I didn't have to make -- and her account debited.

In the spirit of reconciliation E-Trade has offered you one of its digital ID tokens at no charge, for extra online security.

Q. I went to work in Saudi Arabia in 1991. When I returned in 2002, my IRA had almost vanished. I closed the account, but instead of receiving a check for the balance, I got collection notices. What happened?

-- Albert Neroni, Tucson

ANSWER Call it mergers and inquisitions. When you headed to Saudi Arabia, your account at First Union Securities held a little over $600. Your travel made it hard to monitor what you thought was an account on autopilot and you got hit by the attack of the killer fees.

First Union became Wachovia Securities and added a $50 annual fee in addition to the existing $55 annual fee. When you closed the account, you missed a bill for the $75 closing fee, prompting a whole new array of late fees and collection fees. (Welcome home!)

Since you would have closed the account earlier if you hadn't been traveling, Wachovia agreed to refund them. (We asked the collection agency to lay off too, but check your credit report to make sure there are no dings.)

You dodged a bullet this time. In the future, review those online statements monthly.

Click here for more Money Helps.

Got a question about money? Have a financial or red tape nightmare? Need an advocate or some good advice? E-mail Ellen McGirt at  Top of page

Financial Markets
Manage alerts | What is this?