- Service charges, “convenience” fees, penalties and other annoying fees not only make financial products more expensive, but also make comparison shopping harder to do.
- Fees are common with many financial products, like bank checking accounts and credit cards.
- Another area that rife with fees: travel.
- If you’ve been a good customer for a long time, a financial services company may be willing to waive a fee—if you ask.
Uncle Sam calls them “junk fees”—the hidden extra costs you often encounter when you bank, buy stuff or book travel.
According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), these fees are silent but costly. “Junk fees drain tens of billions of dollars per year from Americans’ budgets,” the CFPB reports. These onerous—and sometimes mysterious—service charges also make it more difficult to gauge the true price of a product or service.
Nothing is more annoying than having to shell out cash for fees you don’t understand—and don’t feel you should have to pay. From ATM fees to annual fees on credit cards, here are some of the most-hated add-on charges—and how to get rid of them, once and for all.
Credit card annual fees
Credit card companies also tend to hit consumers with aggressive fees, including late fees, balance transfer fees and cash-advance fees.
One of the worst is the annual fee. “I haven’t met anyone who’s okay with an annual credit card fee,” says Amanda Sullivan, research analyst at CreditDonkey, a personal finance services comparison company in Pasadena, California. “Some companies waive the fees after the first few years. The problem is most people tend to forget they have the option of doing away with it.”
Here’s a tip. Unless you’re intent on earning generous frequent flier miles or other potentially valuable perks, you don’t need to pay an annual fee just for the privilege of paying with a credit card. The vast majority of general purpose credit cards don’t charge an annual fee, so shop for one of those.
Some financial institutions will waive annual credit card fees if you ask. “But if they don't, you can try to pay for it using credit rewards points you've accumulated throughout the years,” says Sullivan.
Bank overdraft fees
Ask any financial expert for the No. 1 fee they hear about, and you’ll get an earful about the charge for overdrawing a checking account, or what banks call a fee for “non-sufficient funds.”
According to Bankrate.com’s most recent checking account and ATM fee study, the average overdraft fee hit $33.58 in 2021. Making matters worse, you could incur more than one overdraft fee in a day if you use your debit card repeatedly.
“I have yet to meet a consumer that doesn't hate overdraft fees,” says Taylor Kovar, chief executive officer at Kovar Wealth Management in Lufkin, Texas. “Talk about kicking you while you’re down.”
You can avoid overdraft fees in the first place by turning down overdraft coverage from your bank, though that can mean that your debit card or ATM will be declined if you don’t have enough money in your account. Or see if you can link your checking account to a savings account or line of credit. You can also set up alerts from your bank when your account balance dips to a certain level.
If you are hit with overdraft charges, Kovar suggests explaining the circumstances to your bank and asking that they waive the fee.
Cash may not be king any more, but that’s not stopping banks from slapping on a fee every time you use an ATM outside of your bank’s network.
You can actually be hit by two fees when you stray from your bank’s ATMs: what your own bank charges for using a non-network ATM, and the surcharge the other ATM operator may impose. In Bankrate’s annual surveys, ATM fees have been falling for a few years, but the average total surcharge and bank fee is still a painful $4.59.
“ATM fees are among the most hated by people because they’re a punishment and seem unavoidable,” says Mark Chen, founder and CEO at BillSmart, a consumer bill negotiation company in Los Angeles.
To limit ATM fees, says Chen, “only withdraw money from in-network ATMs or make bigger but fewer withdrawals.”
Another workaround: Request cash back at the grocery store when you pay with your debit card. It also helps to look for a bank that doesn’t charge non-network fees—some banks, especially online banks, will reimburse you for a certain number of ATM surcharges a month.
Another tip from Chen: As with many bank fees, getting on the phone and asking your financial institution to refund the ATM fee it charged might work. “They may do so as a courtesy to a good customer,” he says.
Food delivery fees
Now that we’re all frequently ordering take-out, another vexing fee that we’re seeing more often is the charge tacked on to a meal delivery order. Depending on the service, you might pay a delivery fee and a service fee.
“These are rarely mentioned up-front and rarely end up going to the actual workers making or delivering your food,” says Carter Seuthe, CEO at Credit Summit Consolidation, a credit services firm. “Instead, they're quick, easy ways for delivery services to boost their profit margins.”
If you wonder how bad these fees are, consider that in 2021 Grubhub, DoorDash and Uber Eats brought a lawsuit after New York City passed a law capping delivery fees at 15%.
Instead of using a delivery service, see if the restaurant offers its own delivery as an option. Some services charge more than others, so you could also shop around for the lowest fees.
Hotels love to add on hidden fees, too. “The most common hotel charge is the dreaded resort fee, which can add $20 to $30 per night to your bill,” says Linda Chavez, founder at Seniors Life Insurance Finder, an insurance comparison platform in Los Angeles. “With hotels, you also see other charges, like parking fees, internet fees and even fitness center fees.”
Keep an eye out for resort fees when you compare room prices on booking sites. One potential workaround for frequent travelers: If you book your hotel room with loyalty points, some hotel loyalty programs waive the resort fee. Plus, some hotel chains may waive the fees for rewards members who’ve reached elite status.
Checked baggage fees
With airlines charging for everything from blankets and pillows to seat reservations, it’s a miracle the burnt coffee is still free. One major consumer complaint with airlines is the ever-increasing price to check a bag.
Southwest still lets you check two bags for free, but that policy is increasingly a rarity. On other U.S. carriers, you’ll often pay $30 to check your first bag and $40 for your second.
One way to avoid baggage fees is to achieve elite status on the airline you fly the most, which will earn you at least one free checked bag a flight. Or pack light and stick with just a carry-on bag. To fit into the overhead bin, airlines typically limit carry-on bags to 22 by 14 by 9 inches. So pack really light.