Don't Let These 16 Hidden Fees Catch You By Surprise
Even when fees are disclosed, there is something about them that is both irritating and frustrating. Why not show the total price upfront, with the fees clearly identified? When consumers don't notice the buried charges until right before payment, or when fees are kept out of sight for months on end, the sense of being ripped off is palpable. Here are 16 fees consumers may not see coming -- or pay without knowing it.
Even legitimate cellphone fees can be confusing and annoying, but sometimes unauthorized fees are added to the bill as well, a practice called "cramming." Look for and investigate fees listed with vague descriptions such as "calling plan" or "membership." Federal laws prohibit phone companies from using misleading language to describe services and to identify the service provider that's charging each item on the bill. If something doesn't check out, the Federal Communications Commission has advice on how consumers can protect themselves and file a complaint.
The modems or routers rented out by internet service providers may be necessary, but the recurring monthly rental fee is easy to forget and may go on long after the value of the device has been paid. Spend a little up front to buy the hardware and avoid the extra monthly charge. The purchase can often pay for itself in less than a year.
First-time homebuyers agree on a price but can be caught unaware by all the expenses required to finalize the purchase. They can't necessarily be avoided, but some can be decreased by shopping around, and sellers sometimes can be convinced to pay part of the closing costs. A loan estimate form must be given to borrowers within three business days after the lender has received a loan application. Page 2 of the form lists several services the lender requires (borrowers still may be able to save by choosing a different lender) and several costs that borrowers can shop for if they move forward with the lender.
Many bank customers sign up for overdraft protection because it seems like, well, protection from overdrawing an account. It's true that, instead of charging an overdraft fee -- often $25 to $35 -- the bank transfers funds from a linked savings account or credit line to avoid a bounced payment. The transfer, though, usually costs about $10. Instead, opt out of overdraft protection and a debit card transaction will simply be declined. Automatic payments, such as subscriptions, still may go through despite insufficient funds and can result in an overdrawn account.
Investing can be so complicated that many people do not realize the fees they are paying. For example, a financial adviser might take 1 percent each year of the money being managed. And some investments may charge fees on top of that; a mutual fund, for example, could charge a fee at the initial investment or when the investment is sold. Look out for 12b-1 fees, which pay for marketing but get wrapped up in the expense ratio (costs incurred by the fund) and try to choose funds without them. Retirement accounts, such as 401(k)s or IRAs, also may impose management fees.
Some banks, credit card issuers, and brokerages charge a fee to customers who wish to receive their monthly statements in the mail. It's often easy to sign up for electronic statements and save money -- as well as the paper clutter.
Merchants around the world are happy to take credit cards, but making a purchase in a foreign currency can come with an extra charge. Many credit cards add 1 percent to 3 percent on top of the purchase as a foreign transaction fee. Avoid this by paying with cash or using a credit card that waives foreign transaction fees, such as those from Capital One.
Consumers with credit card debt may be enticed to transfer the debt to a new credit card offering a promotional 0 percent interest rate. Generally, the debt that's transferred (and sometimes accrued from new purchases) is interest-free for about 12 to 21 months, depending on the offer. However, many of the cards charge a balance-transfer fee of 4 percent or so. Calculate whether the fee is worth it, or look for a card that doesn't charge a balance-transfer fee.
Hotels in popular tourist destinations often charge resort fees ranging from $10 to more than $30 a night -- sometimes neither clearly disclosed nor included in the price shown on third-party booking sites. Ask upfront about fees to avoid the expensive surprise of learning about them at check-in. Resort fees are sometimes charged even for rooms booked with points or free-stay vouchers.
Related: 14 All-Inclusive Resorts Right Here in the U.S.
Some hotels charge a fee for use of an in-room safe or delivery of a morning paper -- even for guests who don't need or request these services. Some minibars have sensors that detect weight changes, and merely moving items in the fridge can trigger a minibar fee. A call to the front desk should clear this up, but check the bill closely before signing. Even better, be wary of fees before checking in. That's the time to ask about potential charges and request that superfluous fees be waived.
Consumers who do not want, or cannot open, a bank account may turn to a prepaid debit card as an alternative. Prepaid cards are like gift cards, but many are tied to a credit card network such as Visa or MasterCard. They are accepted in the same places and can be reloaded multiple times. Some come with charges to activate the card, reload it, and check balances, and there may be monthly maintenance fees, as well as fees every time the card is swiped. The best prepaid cards have low fees and offer ways to avoid other fees, such as setting up direct deposit to have the monthly charge waived. The Simple Dollar recommends six cards and provides tips on how to avoid fees.
Cable and satellite TV companies, along with internet service providers, commonly offer a 12-month promotional rate for new customers. After that, the monthly cost can jump considerably. However, making a habit of calling the companies, negotiating rates, and potentially switching to a different provider could keep the cost low.
Most people know that event tickets typically come with fees, but it can be a shock how much they increase the total price at checkout. From service fees to processing fees to delivery fees (which sometimes apply to emailed tickets, as well), there are almost always extra charges. These fees are hard to get around, but sometimes tickets bought directly from the box office don't have any extra charges attached. Also always compare the total price from different vendors.
Some financial institutions advertise free checking accounts, but the fine print might reveal that there's actually a monthly maintenance fee unless certain conditions are met, such as a daily minimum balance or qualified direct deposits. To avoid this fee, look for banks or credit unions that offer free checking accounts with no strings attached, or at least have a low $5 or $10 balance requirement.
There are a variety of fees that come with buying a car, from registration fees to documentation fees. Car buyers might also encounter an advertising fee, or sometimes two. When the advertising fee is charged by the manufacturer to the dealership and passed on to the buyer (it should show up on the vehicle's invoice), there might not be much recourse. But if the dealership is charging the fee to offset its costs, the buyer may be able to negotiate it.