9 Sneaky Fees and How to Avoid Them
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9 Sneaky Fees and How to Avoid Them

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By Susannah Snider
March 2011

Corporate America has learned that one of the easiest ways to boost profits is to nickel and dime its customers with pesky fees. But if you know they’re coming, you can usually avoid them. Click to the right to see some of our top picks for sneaky fees.
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9 Sneaky Fees and How to Avoid Them | Slide 2 of 10

Airline Luggage Fees

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Most airlines now charge passengers $25 for the first checked bag, $30 or more for a second checked bag and up to $100 (or even more on some carriers) for bags weighing 50 pounds or more.
How to avoid these fees: If you can’t fly Southwest (two free checked bags) or JetBlue (one free bag) and have to pay to check your bags, it may cost less to skip baggage claim and ship through UPS or FedEx. Shipping is especially cost-efficient for overweight bags. The table at Airfarewatchdog.com compares shipping with baggage-check charges for common travel plans.
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9 Sneaky Fees and How to Avoid Them | Slide 3 of 10

Event Ticket Fees

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Online ticket sellers, such as StubHub and Ticketmaster, tack on a "service fee" or “connection fee” in addition to shipping charges. For example, admission to a Big Bad Voodoo Daddy show in New York City recently cost $25 on Ticketmaster -- plus a $7.75 convenience charge, a $2 facility charge and $2.50 for shipping. That’s a 49% surcharge.
How to avoid these fees: Try purchasing tickets through a discount site, such as Goldstar.com, which charges service fees but eases the pain by selling tickets at half price. Or go old-school and book through the box office, where convenience fees, if any, are much smaller.
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9 Sneaky Fees and How to Avoid Them | Slide 4 of 10

Car Dealer Charges

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When you buy a new car, the dealer may try to pass on extra fees to you. You’re stuck paying the fees listed on the factory invoice -- including the destination fee and the carmaker's regional advertising fee -- because those are charges that the carmaker passes along to the dealer. But if a fee doesn't show up on the factory invoice, don't pay it.
How to avoid these fees: You shouldn’t pay fees that are part of the dealer’s cost of doing business, such as floor-plan fees (the cost to hold inventory at the dealership) and vehicle-preparation fees (for cleaning, removing plastic and checking fluids), according to TrueCar.com, an automotive information site.
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9 Sneaky Fees and How to Avoid Them | Slide 5 of 10

Checking Fees on "Free" Accounts

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Banks are constantly concocting new rules -- and related fees -- to boost revenues, and “free” checking accounts are a popular target. Last year, banks charged an average of $13.04 for each customer who dipped below the minimum balance requirement on a checking account, according to Bankrate.com.
How to avoid these fees: You may be able to have fees waived if you, say, switch to direct deposit or agree to get your statement online. If nothing else, you may be able to negotiate a better deal if you threaten to take your money elsewhere.
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9 Sneaky Fees and How to Avoid Them | Slide 6 of 10

Directory Assistance

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Verizon and AT&T charge wireless customers $1.99 (plus airtime) when you call 411.
How to avoid these fees: Next time you need digits, text Google at 466453 and it will send back a text with the number. Or call 800-BING-411 or 800-FREE-411 (800-373-3411). If you have access to the Web, you can get free directory assistance at Free411.com and similar sites.
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9 Sneaky Fees and How to Avoid Them | Slide 7 of 10

Pay to Pay

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"Pay-to-pay" charges nick customers for using a credit card or debit card, a personal check or even for paying in person. For example, AT&T charges up to $5 if you go to one of its stores to pay your wireless, home phone, Internet or U-verse services bill. State Farm hits up most customers who pay monthly with a $3 monthly "service charge" to pay by paper check and $1 to pay online.
How to avoid these fees: You can dodge these fees if you know the rules. You can pay AT&T by check, at its Web site or over the phone. And those who pay State Farm every six months for auto insurance and 12 months for homeowners’ insurance dodge service charges.
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9 Sneaky Fees and How to Avoid Them | Slide 8 of 10

Frequent-Flier Fees

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A frequent-flier account doesn’t exempt you from airline nickel-and-diming. For example, US Airways charges a $75 "Quick Ticketing" fee when you use miles to purchase a flight within two weeks of takeoff. Continental charges a $75 "Close-in Reward" booking fee for using points to book a flight fewer than three weeks in advance. You may also be charged fees to change your award flight (typically $150) or to "restock" your miles (typically $50).
How to avoid these fees: If you have to pay fees in an eleventh-hour attemptto prevent points from expiring, consider swapping miles for services or goods through your airline or Web sites such as Points.com although your points won’t go as far.
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9 Sneaky Fees and How to Avoid Them | Slide 9 of 10

Using Plastic to Pay Taxes

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Using your credit card to pay your IRS tab at authorized Web sites, such as www.payusatax.com and www.pay1040.com, triggers a charge of up to 2.35% on top of your payment. If your tax bill is $4,000, for example, that’s an additional $94.
How to avoid these fees: These vendors are passing along the credit-card processing fee charged by VISA, Master Card, Discover and American Express. (The IRS doesn’t share any of the revenue.) You can pay with a debit or ATM card for less than $4, but a better option is to let the IRS debit your bank account (you need to supply your bank’s routing number and your account number). And the IRS doesn’t charge any extra fee.
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9 Sneaky Fees and How to Avoid Them | Slide 10 of 10

Speaking With an Operator

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There’s nothing like a little human interaction when paying a bill or booking a flight. But you’ll pay for the lip service. Airlines charge between $15 and $35 to book tickets over the phone with a reservation agent. Paying your mortgage over the phone at HSBC or Bank of America costs $15. Wells Fargo charges $15 if you pay a bill through its automated phone service and $20 to speak with a customer rep.
How to avoid these fees: If you need to pay at the last minute, try the Web site or opt for the automated phone service, which may be free.
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