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Automatic Payments from Your Bank Account: Know Your Rights

Authored By: Iowa Legal Aid

Information

It is becoming more and more common to use recurring automatic electronic payments to pay bills.  “Recurring automatic payments” are when you have more than one payment set up to come out of your bank account at roughly the same time over a period of time.  There are some important rights that you have in regard to recurring automatic payments.  Many of these rights come from a federal law called the Electronic Funds Transfer Act (EFTA).

First, no one can take money out of your account unless the person or company taking the funds has permission to take a specific amount.  For a recurring automatic payment, this must be in writing.  This writing can be on paper or online.  The person or company you pay must provide a copy of the authorization if you ask. 

Second, no one can force you to agree to repeated monthly electronic payments from your account for “an extension of credit.”  An extension of credit is when someone lends money or gives you services and goods and charges you interest or a fee.  Debts like credit cards, payday loans, or car loans are examples of situations where credit is extended to a borrower. 

Third, you can always cancel a recurring payment.  You can cancel by sending a notice to your bank at least three days before the next transfer.  Even though you can do it orally, a written revocation is better in case you have to prove you gave the notice.  You should also send a second letter to the person or company who is being paid.  This letter should clearly say it is not okay to continue taking money out of your account.

You have a right to file a lawsuit under EFTA for damages and attorney fees for any of the following (not a complete list):

  • Against the person or company taking the money:
    • Refusing to provide a copy of an authorization for recurring payment
    • Starting electronic transfers without authorization
    • Attempting to get you to waive your rights
  • Against your bank:
    • No thonoring your stop-payment notice for a recurring automatic payment or electronic check transaction.

There are some cases where EFTA does not apply to recurring automatic payments.  For example, if the creditor you owe is the bank where your account is, EFTA does not give you the same cancellation rights.  You may have other rights in that situation, however. 

If you are having problems with a recurring automatic payment, you may wish to call Iowa Legal Aid.

Iowa Legal Aid provides help to low-income Iowans. 
To apply for help from Iowa Legal Aid:call 800-532-1275. 
Iowans age 60 and over, call 800-992-8161 or 
apply online at iowalegalaid.org
 
If Iowa Legal Aid cannot help, look for an attorney on “Find A Lawyer” on the Iowa State Bar Association website iowabar.org.   A private attorney there can talk with you for a fee of $25 for 30 minutes of legal advice.
*As you read this information, remember this article is not a substitute for legal advice. 
Last Review and Update: Aug 26, 2015
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