If you get wrongly charged a fee or fraud hits your account, you may feel frustrated and impatient with your bank. If you’re not being heard or treated fairly, it might be time to file a complaint. And be assured your actions can help more than just you.
"If multiple people complain about the same issue, hopefully you get a systemic solution,” says Christina Tetreault, manager of financial policy at Consumer Reports, a nonprofit dedicated to consumer advocacy and research.
"Complaints can lead to enforcement actions” against a bank and “point the way for advocates like me... [to] understand what consumer issues are out there,” Tetreault says.
Here are four steps to file a complaint against your bank and what else to know.
1. Work with your bank
When an issue first arises, do your best to work with your bank’s customer support team. If you can’t get a hold of someone, reach out in multiple ways, such as by phone and web-based messaging. Save any written messages and information from phone calls since you might need to reference them later.
“Take detailed notes,” Tetreault says. “When did you call [or message], who did you talk to, what did you say, what did they say?”
» Fed up with wait times? Here are three ways to skip your bank’s long phone lines
2. Decide where to complain
If you get nowhere with your bank after multiple days and attempts, it’s probably time to make an official complaint. You ultimately want to compel your bank to act, so choose a government agency or company that will get in touch with your bank.
A good starting point is to file a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The federal agency has a streamlined online submission process, which lets you track the message and receive email updates. You can also reach out to the CFPB via mail or phone.
If another government agency, such as a regulator for a community bank or credit union, would be better able to help you, the CFPB forwards your message to them. The CFPB also publishes complaints in a public database, with personal details removed, and uses this data to enforce and create better rules and regulations.
3. Write your complaint
This is your big opportunity to get help, so be as specific as you can. Gather up helpful documents, such as billing statements or messages from the company. If you have digital versions, consider attaching them to your complaint.
The CFPB suggests five questions to help you structure the complaint:
"What is the complaint about?" What type of product or service were you using? Was it a checking account, credit card or credit reporting?
"What type of problem are you having?" Were you having trouble opening, managing or closing an account?
"What happened?" Include dates, dollar amounts and any actions you and the bank took. Describe what a fair solution would be.
"What company is the complaint about?" The CFPB supervises a range of financial companies, including banks, credit unions, lenders, financial technology firms and more.
"Who are the people involved?" Did the issue affect just you or were there others?
If you need more help, see this sample complaint letter.
4. Submit your complaint and wait
As urgent as your issue might be, you probably won’t hear back immediately. The CFPB states the general time frame is 15 days for most companies' responses to complaints, but some companies may take as long as 60 days. Once a company replies, you have 60 days to give feedback on that, which ends the exchange.
What else you can do
Send more complaints. You can generally make one complaint per issue and per bank through the CFPB, but there are other sites like the Better Business Bureau and Twitter where your bank may respond.
Consider a new bank. Depending on how bad the situation, you might move your money to a bank that treats you better. Here’s NerdWallet's guide to switching banks.
What you probably can’t do
As much as you might want to, you generally can’t sue your bank.
Your “legal actions are likely limited by the fine print in most customer contracts with banks,” says Mike Litt, consumer campaign director at U.S. PIRG, a public interest firm focused on consumer advocacy in finance, health and other topics. Arbitration clauses are a key reason why class-action lawsuits might not be possible.
“Small claims court may be an option,” Litt adds, “but it may be best to consult a consumer attorney.”