Sometimes it seems like even life's bare necessities are more expensive than they should be. Creating a budget for yourself can be a useless initiative if you forget to include what seems like an endless number of hidden fees that pop up in everything from your cell phone bill to trips to the gas pump. Want to make sure you take each of these mysterious fees into account for more accurate financial planning? We'll demystify the hidden fees you pay every day, and teach you a few tricks to avoid them.
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Gas Station Inflation
With insurance, a lease and gas, having a car can already be pretty expensive as it is. But you could be charged for more than you bargained for. Some gas stations will pass credit card transaction fees on to the consumer, meaning you'll simply be charged more per gallon.
Debit Card Freeze
And if you have become used to paying with a debit card, watch out. Some banks will freeze up to $75 on your account until the amount of gas you purchased has been cleared through their system, meaning that if you think you have those funds available for other costs, you could subject yourself to penalties resulting from having insufficient funds.
Consider going inside to pay the cashier and to pay with cash. And if you really resent paying for credit card transactions, try finding a gas station that accepts cash only. Chances are they've opted to lower prices at the pump over offering convenient transactions. (For more, see Cut Your Bank Fees.)
Document Preparation Fees
Before buying or agreeing to lease a car, make sure you're aware of every add-on cost and make wise decisions on what you actually need. And never trust that a car dealership is looking out for your best interest - the DMV warns that if your dealer is charging you a "document preparation fee" just to sign the paperwork, then they're ripping you off.
It's hard to remember what life was like before debit cards and automated banking. It may have been more difficult to get your time-strapped hands on some cash, but it was certainly cheaper. Automated banking has become a popular way for banks to gouge customers - despite not having to pay an actual teller to count out your twenties. Most banks charge a fee for ATM transactions completed by customers who are using a debit card issued by a different bank. These charges, if you're lucky, start at $1.50 but can be as high as $6 for one transaction.
If you're really stuck and you're good at watching your spending, think about taking more money out than you immediately need to avoid using another ATM soon and paying the fee again. But the best way to avoid these fees is to hit your own bank's machines. And before you go away, find out what it will cost to withdraw money overseas at an ATM. It may be cheaper to exchange currency at home before you leave. (For more, check out 5 ATM Scams That Can Break The Bank.)
Overdraft and Credit Card Fees
The same goes for overdraft fees and credit card fees. Interest rates are already high, so try to stay in the black, because you will be punished. Beyond that, make sure you make payments on all of your bills on time, because late fees will put a larger dent in your wallet than you think.
It can be tricky to watch every penny as you go about living life, but being aware of hidden fees could alter the decisions you make as you do it. For example, delivery services often charge consumers an additional "fuel surcharge" which is meant to account for the cost of gas in delivering the item. Many courier companies advertise their fuel surcharges online, so check them out before booking.
Cell Phone Charges
Other services like telephone and cable are also known for sneaking in hidden fees like the Federal Communications Commission's regulatory fees that are included in cable bills. Canadians pay a "system access fee" on each cell phone bill that comes to about $6.95 each month. There's nothing wrong with trying to wriggle out of paying what seem to be hidden or undisclosed fees on a bill. There's no harm in trying: call your provider and try to haggle your way out of paying additional, seemingly unnecessary fees. (For more, check out Top 6 Mindless Money Wasters.)
The Bottom Line
If you're hoping to avoid spending your hard-earned coin on what seems like nothing in the form of hidden fees, the best way to do it is to be as informed as possible in every purchase you make. The above list is only the beginning. Before you sign a contract, read it top to bottom. Get a second opinion and find out if all companies charge similar hidden fees as the one in question. And finally, there is no shame in finding ways to save money for what's important. If you think you could be paying too much for something, just ask for a cheaper deal. You never know how badly a company wants to keep your business, and you could have more leverage than you think.
Catch up on your financial news; read Water Cooler Finance: A Diving Dow And Rotting Eggs.
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