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Calif. Man Wins Battle Over BofA 'Lifetime' Free Checking

A California artist has won his fight against Bank of America to honor a lifetime of free checking that he signed up for in 1971.

Robert Whitten, 57, lives in San Francisco now but grew up in Arlington, Va. When he was 17 years old, he heard that a new branch of the Virginia Commonwealth Bank was offering a lifetime of free checking for new customers.

Whitten's young friends were unimpressed but he figured it would last him a long time and he signed up.

"I went in there and it surprised them that I was interested in a checking account," he told ABCNews.com.

He signed up in 1971 and for the next 40 years, he enjoyed free checking and no minimum balance. His original bank was swallowed up by another bank and that bank was swallowed by another. This happened several times until Nation's Bank finally merged with Bank of America.

Then last fall, Whitten noticed he was being charged a service fee.

"I had the account from then until now and I discovered one day that they were taking $14 a month out of it," he said. "I assumed I had had free checking for life and that meant life."

When he called Bank of America, he said he was told the promotion had expired.

"And I said, 'But I haven't,'" Whitten said. "I've been married since 1983. I don't turn to my wife every morning and say, 'By the way, are we still married?' We took a vow."

Whitten believed the bank needed to honor its word. He contacted ABC News' San Francisco affiliate KGO-TV and told them his story.

"The next day, [Bank of America] called and said, 'I guess you're right. You have free checking for life,'" he said.

Bank of America did not immediately respond to requests for comment from ABCNews.com, but told KGO-TV in a statement, "We typically honor legacy free checking account agreements, as we have done in this case."

Whitten received a $168 refund for charges and the bank placed a permanent fee waiver on his account.

"I already spent the service fees," he said with a laugh. Whitten said he spent some of the money on medical marijuana. "I'm glad Bank of America was so nice to me."

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