Buyer Beware Hidden Charges May Be Affecting Your Bottom Line

You are one of those people that diligently budgets for every expense, cuts costs wherever possible–a sheer genius when it comes to personal finance. So why does it seem you just can’t get ahead as a middleclass American citizen doing all the right things when it comes to sticking to your budget?

The economy has taken its toll on just about everyone, both consumers and business. In fact either you or someone close to you has likely fallen victim to a foreclosure, layoff, or downsizing. When you fill up at the pump you wonder when a gallon of gas and a gallon of milk began to cost the same amount.

As you ponder the rising costs of just about everything you buy you also begin to see your so called financial future disappear right before your eyes as the big banks you trusted with your life savings slowly swindle your retirement savings right before your very eyes. Yes I am talking about those hidden fees and costs we just can’t avoid.

Hidden fees and surcharges, pack their punch as the average American pays at least $942 each year in hidden fees according to research conducted by the Ponemon Institute. And that number continues to rise as consumers are passed on fees by businesses and industries that have taken financial hits themselves.

So how can you be prepared for battle when it comes to hidden fees and the unsuspecting corners they emerge from? Let’s find out so we can fight back!

Credit card companies & banks

Credit card companies and banks are probably the worse when it comes to hidden fees. The new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau requires banks to offer customers a one-page fee disclosure box, as credit card companies are now required to do thanks to the Card Act.

So what fees should you be looking for? For credit cards:

  • Cash advance fees
  • Late payment fees
  • Balance transfer fees
  • Card replacement
  • Annual fees
  • Phone payments

For banks:

  • Overdrafts
  • Stop-payments
  • Minimum balance requirements
  • Wire transfers
  • Checks

Credit card and bank fees have become both more common and more expensive in recent years, even as new regulations have sought to keep institutions from taking advantage of consumers. In fact, some of the newest, sneakiest charges are a direct result of government regulation. Examples include increased maintenance fees and mobile phone deposits.

Same price…less product

Yes it is true you are paying the same, but getting less. Consumer Reports found that companies have reduced package sizes by as much as 20 percent.

Check out incredibleshrinkinggrocceries.com for the latest examples of what you are paying more for, but getting less of.

To combat the hidden expenses in your grocery cart pay attention to the per-unit price, and buy in bulk whenever possible.

Hidden Airline Fees

If you have done any traveling over the past few years you can’t help but notice the extra fees you must budget for when taking a trip.  Here are just a few fees that may take you by surprise:

  • A fee for every bag you bring.
  • Re-booking fees.
  • Want extra legroom-you’ll pay extra for that.
  • Headphones for the in air movie-that’ll cost you.
  • Long trip? Want a blanket? A pillow? You guessed it you’ll pay extra for them too.

Dining Out  

Going out for dinner is always a highlight for me. I don’t have to cook and best of all there is no cleanup-I love a much needed break every now and then. But is it worth it? I budget for these nights of freedom and the hidden fees make it almost impossible to actually enjoy nights out without feeling anxiety about blowing my budget. Here are just a few to watch out for:

  • The plate share fee. Why should I pay more to eat a healthy size portion vs. the monster size that is served?
  • Special order requests.  My family has various dietary needs; diabetes and celiac disease. So we often need to make special requests-yes some restaurants charge extra for that.

Cell Phone Bills

This is one of the industries that really take advantage of consumers. According to Billshrink.com, “80 percent of Americans overpay on their cell-phone service by more than $800 million a year, or $300 a person on average.”

Are you kidding me? That is silent robbery. After reading this I called my cell phone company and was able to reduce my bill by $75 a month. Yes I had been paying $75 a month more than I should have been for over 3 years. Here are a few of those hidden fees that make your bill so high:

  • Not bundling your features.
  • Being in the wrong monthly plan.
  • Paying for overages-texts and calls.
  • Internet or data packages mandatory for smartphones.
  • Early termination fees.
  • Directory assistance calls.

Consumer Reports says that one of the biggest ways cell phone companies rip consumers off is by encouraging them to sign up for plans that leave them with large quantities of unused minutes.

According to a 2011 investigation by the Senate Commerce Committee, “cell phone companies have also been known to charge customers for services that they do not yet offer and allow third-party companies to attach mystery costs to customers’ bills – a practice called “cramming” that has cost consumers at least $2 billion since the 1990s.”

So buyer beware ask questions, demand answers, and don’t just agree to “mystery” fees.

As you can see it all adds up; a few dollars in a restaurant, a few more on your flight, and a cell phone bill that costs more than your car payment. The best way to combat hidden fees is to uncover them–be an informed consumer.

What are your tricks for dealing with hidden fees?

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About Suzanne Cramer

4 Responses to “Buyer Beware Hidden Charges May Be Affecting Your Bottom Line”

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  1. Sometimes it’s not only hidden fees, but just plain overcharging you. When I first got broadband internet service through my cable provider, usage of the provided cable modem was free. Somewhere along the way, they started charging $3.00 a month rent. I don’t know how long I had been paying that before I noticed. I probably paid 3x for that stupid cable modem. I called and was able to “purchase” the cable modem from them and they stopped charging me rent…until a few months later I noticed the charge reappeared on my bill. When I called they said they had no record of me buying my cable modem. I directed them to the line and charge on a previous bill that said “Cable Modem Purchase” and asked them what exactly that meant.

    Another time, I noticed on our cell phone bill that we were being charged for data download on my daughter’s cell phone – which sits on our kitchen counter unless she goes to a friends house. When we confronted her about the usage, she had no idea how to even access the internet on her phone. The online tools give us the ability to see what times of the day the downloads were occurring….and the times were while she was at school, and Vonnie and I were at work. How she could be downloading things from the Internet when nobody was home and the phone was sitting on the counter I have no idea.

    So we called and had internet ability blocked on her phone. There was STILL charges for downloads the next month! When we called to ask how it’s possible to have internet downloads when we disabled that function, they didn’t have an answer and reversed the charges.

    The net is, its not only a good idea, but *necessary* to always check over your bill for services….as mistakes are more common than you would think.

  2. Suzanne says:

    @Travis I have had the same happen to me with both my cable and cell phone bills. I have my parents on my cell phone plan–the most basic of phone, no frills plan. Some how I was being charged for internet access on both lines–I had no idea the cheap phone even had that capability-more shocking is that neither of my parents is tech savvy and wouldn’t have a clue about how to access internet on their phones.
    When I called my cell phone company they stated they could diable the feature–great! The next month the charges were still there! Yes you must run through all of your bills with a fine tooth comb to find those “hidden fees” or charges.

  3. I try to go through every invoice once every 6 months for precisely this reason. Charges tend to start creeping up.

  4. Just being on top of everything and questioning anything!

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