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7 fees that are easy to avoid

Sometimes businesses charge fees as a way to make money. Sometimes they're trying to change your behavior.

By MSN Money Partner Jul 3, 2012 1:57PM

This post comes from Jim Wang at partner blog Bargaineering.


Image: Mailbox (© Tetra Images /Corbis)There are a few sites I check on a daily basis and the Frugal sub-reddit on Reddit is one of them. A while back there was a great discussion thread about easily avoidable fees (and how to avoid them). It's a great thread because it shows that many fees out there were likely instituted not to make money, but to make someone's life easier.


For example, a local bike shop charges $8 if you bring your bike in for tire repairs and you leave the wheels on the bike. In other words, if you need tire repairs, just bring in the tires.


Unlike banks, which use the fees to make money, other businesses have fees just to stop you from doing something annoying. Fortunately, regardless of the motivation, there are a lot of little nickel-and-dime fees that can be avoided if you do a little extra work:


Cable modem rental fees

If you check your cable bill, chances are your cable provider is charging you a fee to use that cable modem (as well as any set-top boxes). You can often save a lot of money by buying these devices rather than renting them for $3 to $5 a month. It can be a little tricky because cable companies love this revenue stream, so do a little research online to see if this is possible.


When I had Comcast, they had a deal where you could get a cable modem for free after rebate as part of the sign-up promotion. You could save $50 a year by using that instead of renting. (Post continues below.)

Credit card premium for gas

Many gas stations are starting to offer a lower price per gallon of gasoline if you're willing to pay in cash. They are willing to do this for two reasons: They save on the credit card fees that are typically several percent, and they get you in the store. The likelihood that you buy something else, in addition to the gas, goes up if you actually enter the convenience store (you can't buy a candy bar or chips if you don't go into the store).


As the buyer, calculate the actual savings compared with cash back on a rewards card to see if this makes sense. And don't buy anything if you do enter the store.


Paying for paper statements or bills

A lot of companies are trying to be greener when they request you switch to electronic statements because it saves them money! It also cuts down on the waste of mailing, but don't be mistaken: The motivation is saving money. At first, companies were trying to entice people to switch with statement credits and the like. More recently, they've just decided to charge people a fee for their statements. Two dollars each month to mail a piece of paper or two? C'mon, that's excessive.


That said, you can easily avoid this by going electronic. I like the way Vanguard does it. They charge an annual fee if you don't have above a certain balance and you get a mailed statement. Opt for electronic statements and the fee disappears, regardless of your balance.


Student fees in high school

If your high school or junior high school is looking to charge your student a fee to participate in curricular, co-curricular, or extracurricular activities, it's against the law in, for instance, California. There are some things the school can charge a student for, such as replacement of damaged books loaned to a student, food and field trips, but the list is fairly specific. If your student is being charged fees, check your state's laws to see what's permissible.


Remember, you are already paying for these types of services as part of your taxes, but with state and local governments feeling crunched, they might try to slip something by.


Hotel fees

Many hotels use monitors in the minibar to help them discover when a customer removes something. This sometimes results in a charge on your hotel bill for a can of soda or candy bar that you never consumed. Be aware of these kinds of phantom charges because they're often small and can be hidden in the itemized bill.


Also be on the lookout for any "safe fees" that a hotel may charge to have a safe in your room. If you didn't specifically ask for it, it seems unfair for them to charge you for it.


Coin-counting fees

Coinstar charges 9.8% to count your change; your local bank may do it for free. If your local bank doesn't offer free coin counting, your next-best alternative is to have Coinstar count it and opt for a gift card instead of cash. Coins converted to a gift card are not assessed a fee. You can either use the gift card or try to sell it online or to your friends. (At that point, you might be introducing more hassle that it's worth.)


Foreign transaction fees

When you use your credit card in a foreign country and the charge is made in the local currency, you'll be charged a foreign transaction fee. The only way to avoid this is to use a credit card that doesn't charge a fee, like Capital One. (In fact, Visa and MasterCard assess a fee, so those no-transaction-fee cards, like Capital One, actually pay the fee on your behalf.) Otherwise, just be aware that your credit card company will tack on a few percent to process your charges.


These are just some of the more common ones I saw listed, but the Reddit discussion has a few others that are a little less common (like hair-washing fees, bike-tire-removal fees, etc.).


More on Bargaineering and MSN Money:



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