Money Basics: How to Handle a Bank Error

Lessons on the fundamentals of personal finance and money management

Unless you're playing Monopoly, a bank error in your favor is not a good thing.

A bank error, regardless of whether or not it’s in your favor, is never a good thing (keep reading to find out why). Either way, it takes days, and sometimes weeks, to resolve. Here are the steps you should take when dealing with a bank error:

  • Contact your bank immediately. If you don’t see money in your account that you know you deposited, get to your bank right away and ask to speak to the bank supervisor. You’ll also need to follow up with a letter documenting the situation. The same applies if the error is in your favor. In general, errors must be reported within 30 days from the bank statement date.  When it comes to an electronic funds transfer, you have up to 60 days. In the case of loss due to a fraudulently endorsed check, you have up to one year. Time frames may vary, so check with your particular banking institution.
  • Don’t spend the money. If you spend the money, you’ll have to pay it back. It’s not yours and the bank will not let you keep it. And if you don’t say anything about the error and try to run off with it, you could face criminal charges.
  • Document everything. Take note of the names of bank representatives you speak to, what they say, and when they say them.
  • Don’t transfer the money. You might be tempted to transfer the money to a savings account so that you can earn interest. Bad move. The bank will need access to the money so that they can move it to where it’s supposed to be. They also need to conduct an investigation to see how the error occurred. Moving the money will delay the process and cause confusion.
  • Request compensation. If a mistake involving an electronic funds transfer is not in your favor and the bank determines that it will take more than 10 business days to resolve your case, the bank is required to temporarily reimburse your account.  (However, the bank will take the money back if they determine that you are responsible for the error.) In addition, request that the bank cover any late fees incurred if the matter involves a bill.

Sheiresa Ngo is the consumer affairs editor at Black Enterprise.

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