Death by a Thousand Hidden Fees

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If you’re like most Americans, you’re probably tightening your budget and watching what you spend. But it’s not just the cost of goods and services that’s eating up your paycheck, but also the hidden and unnecessary fees that are being lumped in by companies just to try and bleed a few more dollars out of you.

In fact, the average U.S. adult pays at least $942 each year in hidden fees according to research conducted by the Ponemon Institute.

Those fees include:


$2.47 in fees

7.5 times per month

$222.40 per year



$9.70 in fees


$116.36 per year


Cable/satellite TV





Air travel


An average of 3.05 tickets per year



Hotels, Lodging


An average of 3.83 stays per year



Credit cards



$92.64 per year


Bank and ATM fees



$83.46 per year



$3.71 per month

$44.56 per year




An average of 2.67 transactions per year

$36.00 per year


Retirement services


An average of 3.65 transactions per year

$35.87 per year

Total fees: $942.58 per year

If you’ve tried fighting the war against unnecessary fees, you probably haven’t achieve much but a new level of frustration. In fact, contacting your service provider, card holder, bank, etc. doesn’t usually get any results at all when it comes to cleaning up erroneous or unfair fees.

The percentage of consumers who successfully resolve complaints about fees:

Pay TV 20.2%

Credit cards 64.6%

Cellphones 26.8%

Hotels 37%

Insurance 28.9%

Internet 51.5%


Here are some of the most common fees you’re  probably paying:

Cell phone company fees

According to one study, the average American pays about $300 more than they should for cell phone service every year, in large part due to add-on charges and fees. In fact, cell carriers have ramped up charges for directory assistance, text message overages, Internet access, and early termination fees.

Consumer Reports found that one of the cell companies’ favorite tactics for fleecing consumers is urging them to sign up for big plans with minutes or features that they don’t need and won’t use.

But the worst violation comes from the fact that cell companies often allow third parties to add charges to your bill these days, even if you didn’t authorize them – a practice called “cramming.” Cramming costs consumers about $2 billion every year according to a 2011 investigation by the Senate Commerce Committee.

Bank fees

Studies reveal that the average checking account has 30 fees built into the small print, and some charge as many as 50 such fees! Bank of America, one of the worst offenders, racks up $1 million a year per branch just in customer fees!

However, customers rarely understand those fees, and they’re usually not properly disclosed- if at all. Fewer than half (48%) of major banks have well-marked, direct links from their checking account product pages to a full summary of fees.

Here are the most common bank fees to watch out for:

Monthly checking fees:

Some checking accounts come with minimum deposit requirements, annual fees, and other hidden transaction fees.

Overdraft fees:

When a customer exceeds their account balance, banks whack them with fees. In fact, overdraft fees encompass 60% of the fees charged by banks and can run up to $35-$65. Unfortunately, banks target those people who are most economically vulnerable, including low-income and uneducated consumers and even military, who may be more susceptible to overdrafts. Now, only 10% of the population pays 75% of all overdraft fees, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Bounced check fees:

These fees are also called NSF fees, for Non-Sufficient Funds. These are very similar to overdraft fees, though there are some slight differences with paper checks versus online and ATM withdrawals that over draw an account. NSFs range from $20-$35 per transaction but the party or business you wrote the check to will also charge their own fee, usually around $35 as well.

ATM surcharges:

Banks sting their customers with fees of $1.50 to $2.50 if they use an ATM from another bank. The other bank usually charges their own fee for a similar amount. So simply going to the wrong ATM can cost you up to $5 every time. And if you use an ATM in another country, those fees could be doubled.

Online fees:

Banks often encourage their customers to sign up for online and paperless checking to lower their own costs, but even if you bank online, their can be monthly fees, transaction fees, charges to transfer money between accounts, and when you pay bills electronically.

Here are some other common fees and costs that you’re probably paying:

Airline fees:

A survey by revealed that 40 percent of consumers found hidden fees like auto-renewing services and recurring subscription fees when they bought an airline ticket.

Unused Gym Memberships:

Gyms and health clubs don’t make money on the people who show up – they make money selling memberships to the people who sign up but don’t come (especially around New Year’s) and also charging hidden cancellation fees.

Unused Audiobook Or Music Apps:

The online and smartphone app industry is colossal – and rarely regulated.

Unused Online Memberships:

Many online sites utilize subscription services, and a shady practice called negative option billing to get your credit card information – and keep charging you fees, even if you didn’t know you agreed to them.

Hotel fees:

When you go on vacation, your hotel room is usually the biggest cost, and the excessive fees are a part of that. Hotels, resorts, and B & B’s commonly charge “resort fees,” “in-room safe fees,” “environmental fees,” “newspaper delivery fees,” and many others, even if you didn’t agree to them. And don’t even get me started on the mini-bar charges!

Rental car surcharge fees:

Rental car companies don’t make as much as you may think of the daily rental rate – but they sure bring in a trunk-load of cash on charging fees and extras, like unneeded insurance.

Car dealer fees:

If you’re buying a new car, the list of charges and fees is long and confusing – and that’s for a reason. Those can include advertising fees and “junk” fees like document prep fees, etc.

Ticket service charges:

If you’ve bought tickets online or through a third-party reseller, you probably only are presented with one final price. But that amount includes an excess of fees, including service fees, processing fees, delivery fees (even if you are there in person to buy your tickets or have them emailed), and others.

Your grocery bill may be rising – but what’s in your cart is shrinking:

It’s not technically a fee, but there are plenty of other duplicitous ways companies get more money out of their customers. In fact, grocery stores have been sneakily reducing package sizes over the years on you, making it look like their prices haven’t gone up while you’re getting less for your money all the time. Consumer Reports found that package sizes have been shrunk by up to 20 percent over the last decade.

A couple of examples include Ivory dish detergent, which used to come in a 30-ouce bottle but now comes in a 24-ounce size, and Haagen-Dazs ice cream, which used to hold 16 ounces but now comes in only a 14-ounce container


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