10 infuriating consumer fees to stop paying now
A guide to circumventing the most common — and most hated — fees tacked onto bills
It's a scenario familiar to us all: A bill for some already costly item or service arrives, and it's jacked up even higher thanks to an unexpected fee tacked on by the merchant or provider.
In some cases (particularly with many of the charges associated with cell or cable service providers), the fees are unavoidable. But there are many instances in which you can and should avoid forking over the added fees.
Here's a guide to circumventing 10 of the most common — and most hated — fees:
1. ATM fees
Last year, banks charged non-customers an average of $2.60 to use their ATMS, on top of the $1.53 charge already levied by the consumers' own bank, according to Bankrate. That brings the cost of tapping a non-network ATM to more than $4, a total that has increased by more than a third since 2008.
These fees are totally avoidable with some advance planning to use only in-network machines. Use your bank's app to locate nearby ATMS wherever you are. If you're still having trouble, switch to an online bank — many of them will reimburse ATM fees. Or, use your debit card to get cash back with a purchase.
2. Airline booking fees
A quarter of U.S. leisure travelers still pick up the phone to call their airline to make flight reservations. That could be a costly habit: "Just about every airline will charge a substantial fee for booking flights over the phone with an agent," says Jeff Klee, CEO of CheapAir.com. "Those can be substantial fees, of around $25 per ticket."
It's much better to book online to avoid incurring such charges.
3. Gift card fees
Although consumers prefer to receive general-purpose gift cards that are usable anywhere, such as those distributed by banks and credit card companies, the cards tend to be more expensive for the gift-giver. Upfront purchase fees for such cards averaged $3.95 in December 2013, according to CreditCards.com, and the card companies were also more likely to charge dormancy fees if the cards aren't used within a certain time period. You'll dodge these fees by purchasing a retailer-specific gift card instead.
4. Text messaging fees
Many mobile plans include unlimited text messaging, but if yours doesn't, you could find yourself paying anywhere from 15 to 25 cents per text message, which can definitely add up quickly. Even if you have unlimited text messaging, rates can skyrocket when you're traveling and your phone is roaming.
Keep such charges off your cell phone bill by downloading text messaging apps like WhatsApp or Viber, which can run over Wi-Fi to avoid data charges as well.
5. Event ticket fees
"Service fees" from online ticket brokers like TicketMaster are unavoidable for big-name acts or in-demand sporting events that sell out quickly. For smaller shows, skip the fees (and show some love to your local venue) by visiting the box office to make a purchase directly.
6. Late fees
Missing a bill payment can cost you not only a late fee that can run $20 to $30, but if you're more than 30 days late, it can also result in a potentially costly ding to your credit score. Avoid such late payments by setting up auto-pay on any recurring monthly charges that don't require manual review, such as your mortgage, student loan, or car payments. Bonus: Many banks will drop your interest rate by as much as half a percent when you enroll in auto-pay programs.
If you miss a payment on other bills, such as credit cards or utilities, pick up the phone and call the providers' customer service line. If it's your first time missing a payment, they'll likely drop the late fee — if you ask nicely.
7. Overdraft fees
After a public outcry in 2009, the Federal Reserve passed a rule requiring consumers to opt in to overdraft protection fees, which will cover a payment for which you don't immediately have funds; you're charged $35 for the privilege. The easy way to avoid these fees, of course, is to simply decline to opt in to them. However, some consumer advocates claim that banks are using misleading practices to get consumers to sign up for the potentially costly service. Don't fall for it: Say no, and check the terms of any existing accounts to be sure you're not unwittingly enrolled.
8. Baggage fees
Checked bag fees, starting at around $25 for the first bag, have become de rigueur for most airline passengers, but there are ways savvy travelers can get out of paying them. Airlines will waive the fees for their elite travelers (and their traveling companions) as well as for those using an airline branded credit card. If you can, book your ticket with JetBlue, which offers travelers one free checked bag, or Southwest, which extends the offer to two bags.
9. Checking account fees
It's getting harder to find banks that offer free checking accounts. Since 2009, the number of banks providing free checking declined from 74 percent to just 38 percent, Bankrate reports, and often you'll have to meet minimum requirements, like having direct deposit or having a minimum balance.
"If your bank is charging you a checking account fee, ask them if you qualify for a free account," says Jennifer Calonia, a senior editor with GoBankingsRates.com. "If not, take the opportunity to explore other options, including credit unions or local banks."
10. Mutual fund load fees
Load fees are essentially an upfront sales commission paid to a broker upon the purchase of a mutual fund. The average load fee paid in 2012 was 5.13 percent, according to the Investment Company Institute. That puts a hefty hurdle on the required returns needed to make money on the investment. Individual investors might be better off looking for no-load index funds or ETFs, which carry fees of less than 1 percent.
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