After Elizabeth Scott opens savings accounts for her kids, Bank of America completely depletes them with an $8 monthly “maintenance” fee. Is there any hope she can recover the money?

Q: In late 2019, I opened two savings accounts for my children at Bank of America. I have held an account with BofA for over 20 years, so I was able to set them up online quickly. However, since the balance was so low on each child’s account ($150), I noticed that they would be charged $8 a month as a maintenance fee.

I called customer service about this. They told me I’d have to go into the local branch for help.

At the local branch, a representative told me I needed my two children (ages 6 and 9) present. So I went back to the branch with my two children, at which time they signed their names to ensure they would not incur fees since they were minors.

After that day in late 2019, we essentially employed the “set and forget” approach. And then there was a big global pandemic, and the kids’ banking was the furthest thing from our minds.

Fast forward to March 2022, when I received two letters in the mail from BofA, one for each kid’s account. Each child now had $0 because $8 had been drawn out monthly since 2019.

Behold, my children’s entrée into the American financial system!

I called customer service to resolve this error. A representative directed me to my local branch, where I explained the situation to the banker. But the local branch could not help me.

I am contacting you in the hopes that you can help me recoup the $300 that my children received as birthday gifts and earned at their lemonade stand through hard work. — Elizabeth Scott, Long Beach, Calif.

A: If a Bank of America representative told you that your kids wouldn’t have to pay the $8 monthly fee, then you should still have at least $300 in your kids’ combined accounts. But you don’t — they are empty. BofA took everything.

I applaud you for trying to teach your kids about personal finances. I don’t imagine this is the lesson you had planned for them.

The bank had every right to charge you these fees. Bank of America discloses them when you open an account. Unless you have some proof that BofA will not charge the fee, you should be prepared to pay them.

Your paper trail was not ideal.

You didn’t have a written agreement with the branch manager to waive the fees. You don’t have any written correspondence between you and Bank of America. I just have your detailed account and an electronic chat session, which you initiated after contacting me.

When it comes to dealing with a bank, you should never “set and forget.” Instead, you can sign up for notifications so that whenever your bank charges you a fee, you’ll receive a text message or email. By the time you discovered your error, the entire account had been depleted.

Don’t feel bad. I had a recurring charge on my credit card for almost two years before noticing it. That taught me to monitor my money more carefully. And I imagine now you’ve learned a lesson about bank fees, too.

This was a tough case because you didn’t have any evidence that the bank agreed to waive your fees. But I also thought it was unfair of BofA to help itself to your kids’ hard-earned money. You can find the Bank of America executives on my consumer advocacy site. A brief, polite email to one of them might have resolved this for you.

I contacted BofA on your behalf. A few days later, I heard back from you.

“Good news!” you wrote. “I heard from BofA yesterday and they asked me to come in, and they would help me reopen my children’s accounts. I made an appointment, went to the bank today, and set everything up. The operations manager for my area deposited $200 into each kid’s account. I could not be happier with this resolution. My absolute sincerest thanks!”

Christopher Elliott is the chief advocacy officer for Elliott Advocacy. Email him at chris@elliott.org or get help with any consumer problem by contacting him at http://www.elliott.org/help

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