Many of the obvious benefits that major corporations offer us are sometimes accompanied by fees that are not obvious at all. There are often hidden fees tucked away in the fine print of service contracts that only steely-eyed lawyers are likely to uncover. Because we realize that you would rather not surrender your free time to read the fine print and find these fees, that is what we have done, and we have come up with a list of hidden fees, many of which you can take steps to avoid, that are embedded in many of common goods and services. Here there are.
This one is not likely a surprise. Along with the hefty interest rates on these cards, many of them come with added fees that you need to be aware of. While some cards will offer a promotional 0% interest rate on balance transfers, which will in fact permit you to avoid paying interest on debt that you have run up elsewhere, many cards charge a transfer fee of between three to five percent.
Credit cards usually charge a fee for cash advances as well, and fees also arise for late payments, and even for inactivity. So you can be penalized for overuse, and potentially for underuse as well. Credit cards need to be used very carefully, and ideally to obtain points, rewards, and cash back. Using credit cards for, well, credit, should be restricted to emergencies. You wouldn’t take a home loan out at 15-20% or higher interest, so why accept rates in that range for your consumer debt?
Hotels are masters at the art of the hidden fee, which they often rely on as a source of revenue to make up for competitively lowered room charges. These fees can be imposed on Internet usage, in-room movies, use of the in-room safe, and cancellation of a booking. And don’t even think about touching your hotel room phone or the minibar. Cells phones and snacks from the nearest gas station are a must during hotel stays.
The dictionary has actually added a word for this industry’s skillful use of extra fees, “cramming,” which means adding unauthorized or deceptive charges on a cell phone bill. Consumers need to review their cell phone charges carefully and determine if any are erroneous or can otherwise be challenged.
Cell phone carriers also make a great deal of money from charges imposed on subscribers who exceed their approved limits, whether for minutes, text message, or data usage. And use of your cell phone while traveling can often result in additional “out of area” charges. Beware!
Cable and satellite do compete with low subscription prices to gain our business, but those rates are promotional, and usually last for six months or a year. The companies rely on our becoming addicted to their suite of channels, and on our becoming complacent about the bill, which will rise to rates that are generally quite expensive after that introductory period. You can try calling and threatening to cancel unless they lower your bill, and anecdotal evidence suggests this can be effective. Any concession they make is also likely to be temporary, however, so you may need to rinse and repeat – or make the switch to streaming video.
This industry probably wins the blue ribbon for the best-hidden fees charged to the general public. The list of things on which banks will impose fees is a long one, and includes cash advances, stop-payment service, balance transfers, overdrafts, foreign transactions, late payments, phone payments, and replacement of lost cards. Banks will also charge for wire transfers, ATM usage, and in some cases will even charge for speaking with a teller.
What supermarkets are hiding is not exactly a fee, but slight portions of their products that they used to sell you, and that you think they are still selling you, but that in fact have disappeared. The Consumerist, a watchdog website operated by Consumer Reports, has documented the “grocery shrink ray” phenomenon, which involves the gradual shrinking of products, including salad dressing, cereal, laundry detergent, packaged snacks, and many other grocery items that has been occurring over the past several years.
Producers are aware of how price-sensitive consumers have become over an extended period of economic weakness. So rather than increase prices, they have reduced the size of what we are buying. The best solutions to this hidden fee involve paying attention to unit costs, and buying in bulk.
While this was a partial list of course, but it is likely that you are paying hundreds of dollars per year in some of the costs outlined above, and a careful examination of them may earn you some very real savings that will only accumulate as time goes by.