Tiffani Lavell had been a loyal Chase customer. So she thought the bank would charge her only a small fee to transfer her funds. But Chase charged her an astounding $450 non-ATM withdrawal fee.
“They took it for no reason,” says Lavell. “I have tried everything to get this money back.”
But there was a reason. Chase does indeed disclose the fee — in a place where Lavell didn’t look. Her case is an instance of not reading the fine print in a company’s terms and conditions. And because Lavell didn’t do this before she authorized the funds transfer, our advocates can’t help get the fee reversed.
Moving to another state
Lavell moved from Nevada, where she banked with JP Morgan Chase, to Minnesota, where Chase doesn’t have a local branch. She needed to transfer the balance in her checking account to a local bank.
In preparation for her move, Lavell called Chase and spoke to a customer service representative. She asked the representative about the best way to move her funds. The representative apparently advised her to use her debit card to withdraw the balance at a teller counter.
We don’t know why the representative told her to use this particular method to make the transfer. (Well, we can guess.) The bank could have suggested other transfer methods that would have generated a lower fee, or no fee at all. Lavell claims that she authorized Chase to charge $15 to withdraw the funds during this conversation. She was horrified to discover that the transfer fee Chase assessed was $450.
“I didn’t authorize such a high non-ATM withdrawal fee!”
According to Lavell, she didn’t authorize Chase to withdraw $450 from her account:
I asked them why and they stated I gave them authorization. Which is a lie. They state they have my signature and a voice recording, [for] which I asked for a copy and they will not give it. They said if I got a notarized note asking for my “signature card” that would have the info on it. Which I did (four times) because they stated it was lost, they never got it or it wasn’t correct. Then all it [turned out to be] was my signature showing I authorized a withdrawal of $450.
Lavell claims that she tried to call Chase for help but didn’t get any assistance: “They won’t connect me to a head of anything. I can’t get anywhere but to this person who gave me the runaround for months.”
We don’t know whom Lavell called at Chase. Our website contains contact information for Chase, but it’s unlikely that the executives we list would have reversed the fee. And a look at Chase’s website explains why.
Disclosure in an adhesion contract
Chase’s website contains its deposit account agreement, a document listing fees Chase charges its customers for various types of transactions. These fees include a “non-ATM cash” fee. Chase’s website describes the fee as follows: “You use your Chase Debit Card to withdraw cash from a teller at a bank that is not Chase.”
The deposit account agreement lists the amounts charged for non-ATM withdrawal fees as 3 percent of the dollar amount of the transaction or $5, whichever is greater.
This document is part of an adhesion contact, a one-sided agreement that applies to all customers. Companies use adhesion contracts so they don’t have to negotiate separately with each individual customer. And they generally don’t allow employees to deviate from the terms of the adhesion contracts on behalf of customers. That includes Lavell — regardless of what she specifically signed or authorized when she requested the withdrawal. The verbal promise Lavell received from the customer service representative is worthless because it conflicts with the adhesion contract terms.
After Lavell tried and failed multiple times to get Chase to reverse the fee, she asked our advocates for help. We turned down her case.
Our advocate, Michelle Couch-Friedman, explained to Lavell how Chase had calculated the non-ATM withdrawal fee:
On 7/11 you withdrew $15,000 from your Chase bank and did it through a non-Chase bank with your bank card. There is a 3% fee on this type of transaction. That is where the $450 came from. This is part of your terms and conditions of your Chase account.
So Lavell’s story is going in our Case Dismissed file.