Thursday, May 14, 2009


What's the deal with all these additional fees on everything? Booking fees for travel, ATM fees, transaction fees, restocking fees.....enough already. (Not to mention those 'energy cost' fees when gas prices went up last year....why haven't they disappeared now that gas prices are down?) Team CHEAPIOSITY is as sick of paying pesky fees as you are. Companies think we don't notice. Yeah, right. Here are some tips to eliminate some fees and save you hundreds of $$$ a year. Let's see if the companies notice.

Household bills

1. From small home security firms and heating oil delivery services to major telecom providers, a growing number of companies are charging "manual billing" fees for sending paper bills and statements, sometimes up to $3.50 a month. Sign up for e-mail billing or check your statements online instead, and save up to $42 a year.

2. Homeowners and auto insurance can often be paid in installments, but spreading out the payments comes at a price. Fees vary, but expect $4 or $5 tacked on each month for installments, or up to $30 extra for a six-month policy.

3. Utilities, cable and Internet providers now commonly charge as much as $15 for making a payment over the phone - what Mierzwinski calls a "pay to pay" fee. These fees are often waived online, so set up your accounts on the company Web sites in case you have to make a last-minute payment.

Gift cards

4. Gift cards in the rack at your local supermarket can contain a rack of fees. For those with bank card logos like MasterCard, Visa and American Express, you may pay purchase fees up to $6.95. There can also be separate charges for activation, ATM withdrawal, and monthly maintenance if the card sits unused. Fees and regulations vary from state to state, so check the fine print on the packaging. Also check with your bank to see if they sell gift cards with lower fees.

Phone bills

5. Cell phone companies will charge up to $200 in "termination fees" if you cancel a contract early. Some prorate the fee to reflect the time left on the contract, but check your end date before switching services. If riding out your plan isn't an option, check out a contract trading service, like, or, where someone else may bid to take over the remaining portion of your contract.

6. Telephone companies often charge separately for services like voice mail, call waiting and caller ID, along with local and long distance calling. Some of these features may duplicate service you have on your cell phone. Compare both bills, and cut out services you don't need.

7. Conversely, if you use a service and pay extra fees - like roaming charges on your cell when you're traveling or if you've started texting frequently but still pay for each message - you may be able to save by adjusting your plan to one that includes more options.


8. Ask hotels and resorts if they charge fees for amenities like fitness centers or pools when you make a reservation, and again when you check in, advises David Lytle, editorial director of If you're not going to use certain facilities, negotiate with the hotel before you sign anything that allows them to bill your credit card.

9. When booking a flight, watch out for charges like selecting an exit row seat ($20 at AirTran Airways), seats with more legroom ($35 at Spirit Airlines) and even picking a seat in advance of the flight ($5 to $35 at Northwest Airlines). Wait until you get to the airport on the day of travel and you may be able to avoid fees like charges for certain seats. Common fees charged by airlines are detailed on the travel site

10. Pack light. Airlines won't just charge you for checking your bags, they'll sock you with another fee if any are too heavy - up to $175 on Delta, for instance. If that heavy bag is also "oversized," you'll be hit up for more, as much as $175 on United. With most carriers, including American, Continental, Delta, and United, these fees can be cumulative, so check the airline's Web site for its baggage restrictions before you pack. Bag fees are less common on international flights. Plus, you may be able to get some fees waived if you are a member of certain frequent flyer programs, like American Airlines premium programs, or if you hold an airline-linked credit card like Continental Airlines Chase cards.

11. Mid-range and discount hotels often offer free Internet service, but higher-end locations tend to charge, sometimes as much as $19.95 per day. If your hotel won't waive the fee, check out or to find free service nearby.

12. If you travel with your pet, you are likely to find yourself lapping up extra fees. Even self-proclaimed "pet friendly" hotels typically charge daily fees, starting at about $10 per pet, and in some cases additional per-stay fees up to $200. Ask clear questions when making reservations, and check out Web sites like, or to find no-fee or low-fee deals.

13. For years, savvy travelers have known using a credit card overseas could help save on exchange rates and fees. But credit card companies now typically add a foreign currency conversion charge of up to 3 percent. Lytle, of, said a strategy that will save on fees is to use a credit card only for large purchases, and use ATMs to withdraw cash infrequently for minor spending.

Banking and investing

14. Banks charge $10 to $38 for overdrafts, with the median about $27, Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. data says. These fees are getting more common as debit card use grows. So be keep your account register current, and be mindful of debit card spending, ATM withdrawals and any automatic payments that you have set up.

15. The fees for using another bank's ATM have crept higher, and it's not uncommon to see $3 to $4 charges. Using another bank's machine may also trigger a fee from your bank. Search for your own bank when you need cash, or try getting cash back when making debit-card purchases. Even if your bank also charges a fee for debit-card purchases, that may be a less costly option than using an ATM.

16. Banks may charge fees for frequent teller transactions or even for calling customer service. Wells Fargo, for instance, will charge you $2 to speak with a person, if your request could have been handled by its automated service. Check your bank's Web site and the fine print on your statements to learn your bank's policies.

17. If you've switched jobs and left 401(k) accounts sitting in former employers' programs, you're likely paying unnecessary management and servicing fees. These fees are often deducted directly from the assets of the funds you hold. Check the literature or Web site for your program to find out what's charged, and consolidate accounts to save what could add up to thousands of dollars over time.

Credit cards

18. Pay your bill late and expect to get socked with a fee of $30 or even $45. If you're prone to forgetting the due date, set up an automatic payment through your bank account.

19. Rather than decline a purchase, credit card issuers now are just as likely to allow you to go over your limit and charge you a fee, typically about $35, says Adam Levin, chairman and founder of You'll get charged even if you're just a few cents over your limit, and even if it's something like a late payment fee that puts you there.

20. Annual fees are less common than they used to be. Now appearing mostly on rewards cards, the size of the fees has risen to $50 to $150. If you pay an annual fee, make sure you're getting a worthwhile return from your rewards. If you're not, ask to have the fee waived or try to switch to a no-fee card.

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