How to Spot Hidden Fees in a Hidden Cost Economy

by: Better Business Bureau

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With rising prices for gas and seemingly everything else, restaurants, travel agencies, rideshares and other businesses are adding new fees to the base costs of their services. Businesses are feeling the effects of inflation like the rest of us, and some are adding fees to help them survive. Consumers need to be aware of the fees companies add, so they can make informed decisions about where to spend their money.

These hidden fees may not be obvious at first glance, so if you want to avoid paying them, or at the very least budget for them, there are a few things you should do. BBB recommends the following tips to help you spot charges and avoid them where possible.

  • Don’t believe the advertised price. More and more companies are implementing “drip pricing,” where additional fees are added as you progress through the purchase process. But before heading to the store or hitting the checkout button, find out what fees, if any, will apply to your purchase. Beware of advertised low prices as you may discover expensive cleaning fees, facility fees, administrative fees, fuel surcharges, kitchen appreciation fees, non-cash adjustments, etc.
  • Don’t be afraid to take your business elsewhere. Harvard Business School has found that shoppers typically continue shopping, even if they’re unhappy with the added hidden fees. If you think the fees are too high, keep shopping, recommends The Washington Post.
  • Comparison store with costs in mind. Fees make comparison shopping more difficult. Be prepared to do a little research before buying. Shop around for each company’s fees when calculating the total cost of any purchase.
  • Pay in cash. Rising credit card swipe fees are forcing many retailers to add or increase a non-cash surcharge for consumers who purchase goods or services with a credit or debit card. Avoid these fees by paying cash if you can.
  • To complain. Consumer Reports found that 64% of consumers who complained about hidden or unexpected charges were successful in having the charge removed from a bill or refunded. If you are hit by a surprise charge when you leave, try to speak tactfully and politely.
  • Budget for fees. In most cases, hidden charges are not illegal, which means there are hidden charges that you may be required to pay. Build the 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. Unscrupulous companies add small charges to your bill and describe them with generic terms, such as “service charge”, “voicemail” or “other charge”. Learn more about cramming in this BBB tip.
  • Review your monthly bills. Take a few minutes to review your statements each month and check for new or unexpected charges. If you find hidden charges, talk to the company. They may be willing to reduce or waive fees in some cases. Even if they don’t, you’ll still want to know what you’re paying and how much you can expect to pay monthly for recurring bills.

Learn more about controlling costs during inflation. If you think a hidden charge is particularly unscrupulous, report it to your state attorney general or the Federal Trade Commission. If you spot a scam, report it at BBB.org/ScamTracker. To find reputable companies, go to https://www.bbb.org.


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