Bank Fees

Reporter: Sophie Hull

Imagine a brave new world where as customers of Australia's big banks you can refuse to pay unfair fees. Well, that world is here - thanks to perseverance and people power.

"I'm a single mother of two so every cent of my money matters to me and fees like that I cant afford to hand over." Vanessa Tyrrell was one of thousands of you who downloaded a letter from our website imploring the bank to pay back money unfairly deducted from her account. For that, she was rewarded with $160 from two banks who had been helping themselves to her account.

"Certainly the fees are just extraordinary just between 35 and 45 dollars just for if you're only $1 short of what you need to pay so I think it's definitely worth a try to question anything when it comes out of your own pocket" Irina Bursill was another bank customer who challenged the bank for deducting a huge sum from her account - and won. "They refused at first but I kept pushing and in the end as a goodwill gesture they said they'll give me money back."

At issue were dishonour fees - the sneaky charge of up to $50 slugged on your bank statement when the account dips as little as a few cents into the red. It seems unfair - and that's because it is. The bank is allowed to recoup any expenses it incurs from accounts which are overdrawn - but their charges are completely out of line with the true cost - and customers won't wear it.

"They've written to their banks - they've looked at their accounts and said 'actually I don't want to cop this $50 fee lying down." Choice magazine's Alyssa Freedman explains - the consumer advocate's push to prevent the banks from profiting illegally is paying off - with the National Australia Bank bowing to customer outrage - announcing dishonour fees will be lowered from next year. ANZ and Westpac have made similar announcements. The Commonwealth Bank is the only one of Australia's big four to say it won't be changing anything. It claims to already have had the lowest fees in the market even after NAB's changes. Customers are advised not to take their word for it.

"There's no point complaining about fees if you're not prepared to keep an eye out on your own money anyway. And basically that's what it comes down to. It's your money and the five minutes it takes to check your bank account you can make or save thirty to fifty dollars - it's worth doing." Finance expert Michael Pascoe says we're heading in the right direction but bank customers need to keep up the fight. "Consumer power works once consumers get agitated and it relies upon one or two members of the banking cartel to break ranks and get into it." "Keep it up - keep looking at your accounts keep challenging those fees and if you don't think it's fair speak out" adds Alyssa Freedman.

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