With the rising prices of gas and seemingly everything else, restaurants, travel companies, rideshares, and other businesses are tacking on new fees to the basic costs of their services. Businesses are feeling inflation impacts just as the rest of us are, and some are adding fees to help them survive. Consumers should be aware of what fees businesses are adding, so they can make informed decisions on where to spend their money.
These hidden fees might not be evident at first glance, so if you want to avoid paying them, or at the very least plan for them in your budget, there are a few things you should do. BBB recommends the following tips to help you spot fees and avoid them where possible.
Use these BBB tips to protect yourself from hidden fees:
· Don’t believe the promoted price. More businesses are implementing “drip pricing,” where additional fees are added as you move through the buying process. But before you head to the store or click the checkout button, find out what fees, if any, will apply to your purchase. Be wary of low advertised prices because you may discover expensive fees such as facility fees, administrative fees, fuel surcharges, kitchen appreciation fees, noncash adjustments, and more.
· Comparison shop with fees in mind. Fees make comparison shopping more of a challenge. Be ready to do a little research before you buy. Shop around, considering each business’s fees as you calculate the total cost of any purchase. Don’t be afraid to take your business elsewhere. Harvard Business School found that shoppers typically continue with a purchase – even if they are unhappy with the additional hidden fees. If you think the fees are too high, keep shopping around.
· Pay with cash. Rising credit card swipe fees are forcing many retailers to add a noncash surcharge or increase it for consumers purchasing goods or services with a credit or debit card. Avoid these fees by paying cash if you can.
· Make a complaint. Consumer Reports found that 64% of consumers who complained about a hidden or unexpected fee successfully had the fee taken off a bill or refunded. If you get hit with a surprise charge as you check out, try speaking up tactfully and politely.
· Budget for fees. In most cases, added fees are not illegal, which means there are some costs you might just be obliged to pay. Incorporate necessary fees into your monthly budget, so they don’t break the bank.
· Watch out for cramming. Cramming is the illegal act of adding unauthorized service charges without your knowledge or approval. Less-than-scrupulous companies add small charges to your bill and describe them with generic terms, such as “service fee,” “voicemail,” or “other fees.”
· Review your monthly bills. Take a few minutes to review your statements each month and check for new or unexpected fees. If you find a hidden fee, take it up with the company. They may be willing to reduce or remove the fee in some cases. Even if they don’t, you’ll still want to know what you’re paying for and how much you can expect to pay monthly for recurring bills.
To learn more, visit BBB.org. If you feel a hidden fee is particularly unscrupulous, report it to the Indiana Attorney General or the Federal Trade Commission. If you spot a fee scam, report it at BBB.org/ScamTracker. Whether you’ve lost money or not, your story could help others avoid a scam.
Rick Walz is the President and CEO of the Better Business Bureau serving Northern Indiana, which serves 23 counties. Contact the BBB at 800-552-4631 or visit www.bbb.org.