While pricing cell phones this weekend, my husband and I were told by a cell phone salesman that his competition would give you a “free” phone, but make up for it by charging a higher monthly rate. This got me to thinking about how, as a consumer, you really have to be on the lookout for hidden fees. Hidden fees can cost you a lot of money over the course of a year. Consider the following:
• Banks: We’ve all been slapped with unexpected charges from a bank. (Does it strike you as strange that, unlike almost every other business, there are no prices posted anywhere in a bank?) Common non-disclosed fees at banks involve overdraft charges.
• Phone companies: The BBB sees many complaints from people whose phone company has allowed a third party company to attach mystery costs to their bills by “cramming.” (If you haven’t already, call your phone service provider and tell them to “turn off third party billing,” that you do not authorize it.)
• Food manufacturers: I recently noticed that my Grape Nuts box has gotten thinner. According to the website Alternet and Consumer Reports, companies have reduced their package sizes by as much as 20 percent while keeping the price the same. Buy in bulk when possible and always read the “per unit” price.
• Cable and satellite TV companies: Watch out in case that “$25 per month” plan turns out to be for a limited time only, with lots of fees in the small print. This is another large complaint category at the BBB.
• Airlines: They charge for checking bags, for “memberships,” for rebooking a flight – even for in-flight snacks. Geez, I remember when you got meals, free booze and even filet mignon (on a leg from Frankfurt to Budapest). Those days are long gone.
What you can do: Always read the fine print. Lobby for change, including more consumer-friendly legislation. Complain to the BBB about bad service or products and give customer reviews at our website on stellar companies. Remember, knowledge is power.