How Much Money Are You Losing to Hidden Fees?

by Jamie Simmerman · 6 comments

Dollar symbol + question marks

Managing your finances well means paying attention to where every single dollar goes.

So, it’s time to ask yourself: how much money are you losing to hidden fees?

Cell Phone Service

Purchasing a new cell phone these days is a very complex process, especially if you care about what you’re being charged for every month. Data plans can cost as much as $100 per month per phone, and you’ll need CPR if you ever go over your allowed data for the month and are charged overage fees per MB.

One phone we purchased required a $15 per month charge for “push to talk” service, which we couldn’t use unless someone else within a certain distance had the exact same phone. We had to pay for a service we couldn’t use, and the sales clerk conveniently didn’t point out the charge until after we got our first month’s bill — when it was too late to return the phone.

My in-laws are traveling more in their retirement, and we wanted them to be safe on the road. We added a basic phone to our plan that didn’t require data (a huge feat in itself as these phones are becoming rare) for them to use in emergencies. One hidden charge in our contract is $10 per month on each phone for unlimited texting. Even though my in-laws don’t know how to text and aren’t interested in learning, we still have to pay for the service since it encompasses every phone on our plan. That’s $120 per year that’s wasted.

Banking Fees

ATMs are notorious for charging extra fees for checking your balance or withdrawing money when your bank’s ATM is out of order or too far away. Some of these fees can be as high as $7 for a single transaction, so be sure to read the message on the screen before you accept.

When I needed to get a check cashed for my son after his birthday, my local credit union told me it would be a $5 charge because he didn’t have an account there. While technically this was true, the fee was waived once I asked to talk to the branch manager. But if I hadn’t spoken up, the fee would’ve applied. Since we live in a rural area, it still would’ve been cheaper than driving to another bank, but $5 is a lot of money to a birthday boy who’s expecting a $20 gift.

As banks embrace the convenience of the digital age, keeping a paper trail can actually cost you money. Check your monthly bank statements for hidden charges; they may assess a fee for requesting paper statements, or having your physical cancelled checks returned to you.

Hospital Stays

If you’re unfortunate enough to spend a night (or two) in the hospital, you know how quickly your bill can grow. Even a simple Tylenol for a headache can cost you $12-15!

Most hospitals will dispense a brand name drug, unless specified by a doctor that the generic equivalent is acceptable. Ask your doctor to permit generic brands, and bring your own medicines from home whenever possible.

What hidden fees are nickel-and-diming you?

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Alex C April 18, 2013 at 5:19 am

I got stiffed with fees from my bank a lot until I finally switched. They charged me maintenence fees because I never had enough money in the account. I had some of them waived, but could not get all of the waived. So I finally said this is enough and went to a bank. If you are curious about the bank I left, it was Bank of America. If I ahd any suggestions, then never bank there.

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John S @ Frugal Rules April 18, 2013 at 11:42 am

Many of these can be horrible perpetrators at having hidden fees. We ran into it about when our wife had our last child and the bill can be so confusing to check out. We also had one with our cell plan a few months back that we were thankfully able to get waived. The key is to pay attention to your bills and question if you see an issue.

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@debtblag April 18, 2013 at 12:00 pm

Yup. Just read about a $2 charge I would have gotten for getting paper statements at my bank. The future has become the norm. On the other hand, I do like that I can deposit checks using a smartphone now.

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Phyl April 18, 2013 at 2:03 pm

A friend of mine who owns and rents several small houses sometimes receives that rent in cash. Her bank wanted to charge her a fee for depositing cash (as opposed to checks). Amazing.

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KM April 19, 2013 at 8:17 am

None of these described are really hidden if you read what you sign and do your research. If your bank charges you fees, go to another one. The banks actually tell you that you will have a fee if you still want monthly statements – they don’t hide it, at least in my experience.

If your cell phone company is overcharging you, go to another one (sounds like you are getting ripped off on that one, so I would go to another place that has more reasonable rates). And it might be better for your in-laws to have a separate account so they don’t get those texting fees added, though I still don’t understand how it has to be applied to all phones – I never had that problem.

The hospitals are a different animal though, as they do like to add all these services you don’t need and then stick you with a massive bill. My ER visit charged me ridiculous amounts like $200 for a bag of salty water (IV fluid) just because it’s standard procedure for all patients apparently. Then another $300 for a urine analysis – seriously? I think if I am ever stupid enough to go to the ER in the future, I will ask for the cost of the service of every single thing they do and decline most of it.

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David April 19, 2013 at 1:55 pm

Why not get your in-laws a republic wireless phone? $19/month and junk fees I’m sure. Unlimited talk/text/And you have to get their phone for another $99.

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