When and How to Fight Hidden Fees
Last week I visited the lovely community of Farmington, Connecticut. It was picturesque; beautiful landscape, charming downtown area, great summer weather and adorable “cape” homes. Unfortunately I was only there for one night.
During my brief stay I got a lovely room at a local hotel that is a part of a well-known chain. The pictures of the rooms and grounds looked nice enough online but really I chose it because of its advertised price, only $119 a night.
The American Dream is Burning
The American Dream. A place to call our own. Our sacred castle, in which resides the great American family (including the dog!). It’s a right we should have… Though we’re letting it slip away.
Anyone who watches the news can quite literally see the American Dream burn; people are unemployed, unable to pay bills, and losing their homes. What happened to the American Dream?
**End Sponsored Content**
I thought the room rate was a great deal…until I got my bill. In addition to my room rate and taxes I was charged $35 for a resort fee. What?! I was beside myself. I was barely there long enough to enjoy the room let alone the amenities they offered. In fact, I never even saw the pool, exercise room or sauna that made up the “resort” fee. Plus, an indoor swimming pool and a few treadmills in a cramped extra room in a small community in western Connecticut is not the first thing that comes to mind when I think of a resort.
When I got back home I called the corporate headquarters to dispute the hidden fee. I explained to the customer service representative that since the fee was not disclosed online when I booked the room and I was only there one night I didn’t think I should have incurred the charge. My argument fell on deaf ears.
The hotel’s agent informed me that had I read the small, fine print at the bottom of the agreement I signed when I checked in I would have seen the charge explained.
Hidden charges like these are now commonplace and they’re driving up the cost of everything from cell phone bills to groceries.
It’s not uncommon for companies to pass on extra charges to consumers in sneaky, unexpected ways. Hotels call them “resort” fees or “grounds keeping” fees. Cable companies call them “equipment rental” fees. Airlines call them “fuel surcharges” or “excess baggage” fees. Retailers call them “restocking” fees.
Take a look at your cell phone bill. Verizon charged me $2.20 in surcharges this month. They called the fees Fed universal service charge, regulatory charge, and an administration fee. You’ll notice similarly worded fees on your bill too.
Many of these fees and surcharges are undisclosed, buried in the fine print or given official sounding names on our bills. Really all these fees do is infuriate consumers and go to big companies marketing departments who sit around trying to think up new ways to charge us money.
A study conducted several years ago by the Ponemon Institute, an independent business-research firm, found that the average adult pays about $942 each year in hidden fees and surcharges. Ouch! That’s the cost of a weekend vacation or a night class to improve your job skills.
After years of being charged $2 here and $5 there, consumers have had enough with being nickel and dimed to death. For some writing posts on consumer feedback websites like ripoffreport.com, complaints.com, and ConsumerXchange.com is enough to satisfy them.
For me it’s not. I put together a list of how to fight back against hidden fees in five industries well-known for charging them.
Your best defense in fighting hidden fees in any industry is a good offense. Do your research ahead of time so you can avoid these pesky fees as much as possible.
Websites like Travelocity or Expedia are great at listing all hotel and airline options available to you but they aren’t so great at disclosing their fees. They build in a $5 to $15 to the price of the fares they quote you. It’s not till you book the trip that their fees are disclosed in confusing terms buried in line items on your final bill.
Most times it’s cheaper going directly to the hotel or airlines website and booking directly through them, essentially you are cutting out the middle man and his fees. So search on these sites for convenience then try going directly to the hotel or airline.
Many hotels are unwilling to eliminate all fees and surcharges from your bill. But call and try to negotiate them lower or get some removed, particularly if you are a loyalty program member or repeat guest.
Cell Phone Companies
This one is a toughie because usually by the time consumers notice hidden surcharges on their bills each month they are already locked into a two year contract. And to get out of a contract with a cell phone company you’ll be charged another fee, typically a $150 to $200 “cancellation” fee.
When your cell phone contract is up for renewal, check around at what each company charges in fees before you sign your next contract.
Another sneaky fee cell phone companies like to charge is a “restocking” fee when you buy an accessory or phone from their store and return it. These fees are pretty significant. It’s not uncommon to be charged $25-35 in “restocking” fees.
Your best bet in fighting these charges is to get in touch with a customer service representative from the main headquarters and explain your situation. Fees like these can easily be negotiated or even eliminated altogether if you can show you got bad service or returning the product was a result of their ineptitude.
You already know you can negotiate prices when buying a car. What you may not know is that you can also negotiate the loan terms for a vehicle as well. The financiers at dealerships and used car lots can legally add up to three percentage points to the interest rate it offers you and pocket most or all of that excess interest as pure profit.
To avoid paying more than you should get your FICO score before you go to the dealership. This should tell you if you have bad, average, good or excellent credit and what rates you qualify for. Check out myfico.com to get your score and find out what consumers with similar scores get in rates.
You should also get at least three quotes before you buy a vehicle. Check out the rates offered by your local credit union or bank for auto loans. You don’t have to get a loan through the dealerships auto financing arm.
Cable and Internet Companies
My cable and internet bill really angers me each time I look at all the surcharges. Every month I pay Comcast to rent a modem and cable box in two rooms. It costs me an extra $15 a month in fees, that’s $180 a year.
Your best bet is to try to negotiate with these companies, particularly if you live in an area where there’s competition between providers. Ask for a reduced price on installation fees or free extras like premium channels.
I’ve been able to get all sorts of freebies and waved fees just for asking.
Retirement Plan Industry
It doesn’t matter whether you have a 401(k) or IRA, some of your money is going to investment houses in the form of “management” fees, “load” charges and administrative costs.
Often it’s hard to get information from your employer on these costs because most likely not even they know how much they are paying in these types of fees.
It’s best to stick with low expense mutual funds and other investments. Choose no load mutual funds when possible. Morningstar, an investment research company, recommends never paying more than 1.25 percent annually for emerging-market or specialty funds, 1 percent for broadly diversified equity funds and no more than 0.75 for bond funds.
Index funds can also be good choices since they require almost no management and therefore charge very little in the way of fees. Exchange-traded funds are another low-cost option.
You can’t do much about some fees but that doesn’t mean you have to sit back and get nickel and dimed to death by companies that hide extra fees in the fine print and under confusing terms. It’s always best to do your research first then try negotiating with these companies for reduced rate or to eliminate them altogether. I hope this information helps!
An Easy Way to Save $472 a Month
Is your credit score costing you thousands of dollars each and every year?
Well… If you’re credit score isn’t perfect there’s a good chance it is.
I have some friends who used to be deep in debt and managed to get out in much less time than they thought it was going to take. Their solution using the information provided here!
**End Sponsored Content**
Keeping Money in Your Pocket,