Some people clip coupons, drive to discount stores and scour their budgets to save money, but there are actually little things in plain sight that chip away at your bank account. Your GalTime Consumer Watchdog teamed up with a very well-known watchdog, Fox Business Network anchor Gerri Willis, to warn you about sneaky fees that you should be on the lookout for in 2012.
Why is this so important? Gerri says, “Fees – especially the ones you have to read the fine print to find – are not only annoying but they can blow your budget.” (You are budgeting, right?) Gerri is sharing her tips with us.
Sneakiest Fees Smart Women Need to Watch Out For
1. Bank fees: I’ve been railing on these for a long time – ever since Bank of America announced its intention to introduce a $60 a year debit card fee. Bank of America backed down, but there are plenty of other fees that financial institutions hope you won’t notice. Many are now charging monthly fees of as much as $10 for checking account services. You can typically avoid this by meeting balance requirements or by agreeing to direct deposit your paycheck. Keep an eye out too for higher costs for checks and even charges for talking to a representative.
2. Gift card missed value: If you’re like 50 percent of Americans, you got a gift card this year but don’t let that card languish in a drawer. Truth is retailers anticipate that people forget about them. Since 2005, some $41 billion in gift card value has gone unused. That’s like a fee on your holidays! If the card is from a store you rarely visit, you can still get some of the value, though not all of it, by going to websites like plasticjungle.com and cardpool.com.
3. Travel charges: These days every major airline charges a fee to book a flight over the phone with the exception of Southwest Airlines. Delta, Frontier and United charge as much as $25 per ticket. By the way, you aren’t off the hook if you use an online vendor. Orbitz and Expedia charge about $7 for each ticket you book with them. The cheapest way to book is directly on the airline websites. Airlines aren’t the only ones jacking up the fees in the travel industry, hotels are now piling on the fees for everything from cancellation to storing bags while you dash around the city. Be sure to ask if there are fees for anything special you might ask for – gym usage fees can set you back $100 if you work out every day over a week long vacation. Buyer beware!
4. Cellphone penalty fees: Eighty percent of Americans overpay on their cell-phone service by as much as $300 a year! One of the biggest hidden costs is what you pay for unused minutes each month – you pay upfront but never receive use the service. Wasted money. Worse, if you terminate your contract before it’s up, you’ll be hit with an early termination fee. Verizon recently doubled this fee to $350 for smart phones. (Tip: Call your cell phone company and see how many unused minutes you averaged per month in 2011. You may want to change to a plan with less minutes per month and save.)
5. TV charges: Cable boxes are typically rented to customers but after the first year you may start paying a fee for yours. What’s more if you switch services, like cell phones, you could face an early termination fee. DirectTV will extend the term of your contract every time they replace or upgrade a receiver.
We asked Gerri for techniques on dealing with extra fees.
GalTime: You’ve championed for this, but if people start seeing fees they don’t like, what should they do?
Gerri Willis: I believe you should complain about fees you feel are excessive or ones that fly under the radar. You deserve notice of a fee – if it comes as a complete surprise, that’s a basis for a complaint. Also, if you have a long relationship with the company, that’s worth noting too. Ask whether a loyal customer like yourself can get a break on fees, like, say a monthly checking account fee. It doesn’t hurt to note that in nearly every product category there is a competitor that you could be choosing.
GalTime: Consumers may think, “Oh my little complaint won’t make a difference!” But what’s the reality?
Gerri Willis: Customer complaints was the first thing that Bank of American cited when it announced it was dropping its planned $5 a month debit card fee. So complaining really does make a difference!
Do you have any fees companies have tried to sneak by you? Let us know! Leave your tips and findings in the comment section below.