As the American economy started to tank, people looked around to find ways to save cash. They axed dinners out and expensive family vacations. They groomed the dog themselves and spaced out their own haircuts a bit. They checked the supermarket ads for sales and clipped a lot of coupons.
However, one of the most overlooked types of expense is the everyday fees that can drain your checkbook. Cut even a few of those highlighted by Eileen AJ Connelly, writing in the Washington Beacon (July 2009, p. 6), and you’ll have more cash left at the end of each month.
1. Manual billing fees. These are fees service providers charge for sending paper bills and statements. Small home security firms, heating oil delivery services and even major telecommunications providers now assess fees that range up to $3.50 a month. Ask for e-mail billing, automatic debit from your checking account or access to online billing to save up to $42 each year.
2. Insurance installment payments. Do you pay for homeowners or auto insurance in installments? You could see $4 to $5 added to each month’s installment or a $30 charge for a 6-month policy.
3. Telephone penalties. If you make a payment over the telephone, you’ll often encounter a “pay to pay” fee. They’re commonly assessed by utilities and cable and Internet providers and can go as high as $15. Many are waived if you pay online.
4. Gift cards. The gift cards you spot in a rack at your supermarket can be loaded with fees. You might have to pay purchase charges of up to $6.95 for one with a bank card logo such as MasterCard, Visa or American Express. These cards often also carry separate fees for activation, withdrawals at an ATM and monthly maintenance if the card remains unused.
5. Cell phone contracts. Many cellular service companies now charge up to $200 in what they call termination fees if you bail out of your contract early. If keeping the contract isn’t really an option, visit a contract trading service, where another individual can bid to take over the rest of your contract. Three of these services are Celltradeusa.com, ReCelluar.com and Cellswapper.com.
6. Landline options. Take a good look at your monthly home telephone bill. If you’re paying fees for extra services such as voice mail, call waiting and caller ID, do you really need them? Do you need to pay extra for long-distance calls, or should you use cell phone for them? Axe your landline service and use only your cell phone as your home number to save even more.
7. Hotel and resort add-ons. When planning a trip, ask the facility if it charges extra fees for amenities such as pools and fitness centers. Double check the policy when you arrive and register. If there are fees for amenities you have no intention of using, get a firm price before allowing any charges to go on your credit card.
8. Airline surcharges. Before paying for your ticket, be on the lookout for extra fees such as choosing an exit row seat. One airline charges $20 for that privilege. You’ll pay $35 to another for a seat with extra leg room. And if you choose a seat in advance, a third airline will charge you $5 to $35. Take a peek at Kayak.com for common fees airlines charge. Also make sure your luggage isn’t overweight. At least two airlines charge up to $175 for a bag that’s too heavy or pronounced over sized.
9. Internet access fees. While most mid-range and discount hotels how provide free Internet service, higher-end facilities often tack on a fee of up to $19.95 a day. If the hotel won’t budge, check WiFiFreeSpot.com or JiWire.com to find locations with free service close to the hotel.
10. Pet surcharges. Traveling with Fido or Fifi will probably cost you. Look for fees starting at around $10 a pet, even at hotels or motels that bill themselves as pet-friendly. Sometimes there’s a flat fee of up to $200 per visit. To get the best deal, ask questions when making reservations. Also check PetsOnTheGo.com, PetTravel.com or DogFriendly.com to find places with either no fees or low surcharges.
11. Overseas card fees. Since many credit card companies now tack on a foreign currency conversion charge of up to 3 percent, restrict your card use to large purchases and utilize ATMs sparingly.
12. Bank account fees. Now’s the time to find a no-fee checking account if you don’t already have one. Banks charge an average of $27 in fees per overdraft. Make sure to keep your balance current by promptly logging all ATM withdrawals and debit card purchases in addition to automatic monthly payments. Also avoid using another bank’s ATM if your bank assesses fees to do so. Charges of $3 to $4 per transaction are typical. Some banks charge to mail you a statement, make a teller transaction or use a blank deposit slip available in the lobby.
13. Investment fees. Do you have funds sitting in a retirement account with a prior employer? Multiple IRA accounts? Think about consolidating accounts to minimize management fees.
14. Credit card fees. Expect to pay $30 to $45 in addition to interest each time pay your bill late. Although recent legislation restricts when credit card companies can call a payment late, it’s cheaper to pay on time than late. Authorize the card issuer to honor purchases above your limit and be prepared to pay a fee of around $35. And if you’re paying a fee just to have a credit card, it’s time to shop around for a free account. Reward cards are great, but you might have to hunt a bit to find one without an annual fee.