How to Avoid Hidden Fees - Cleveland 19 News Cleveland, OH

How to Avoid Hidden Fees

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(CBS)  Every penny counts, so it's important to make sure that you're not being hit with hidden charges. But hidden fees can pop up everywhere, from banking fees to hotel stays to telephone calls.

On "The Early Show," CBS News Business and Economics Correspondent Rebecca Jarvis shared some of the most common fees and how you can avoid those loses.

Forking over for your checking:
Free checking will all but disappear at big banks in coming years. The average monthly cost of an interest-bearing checking account was $12.55 in 2009 versus $11.97 in 2008, reports Bankrate.com.

Some banks have minimum balances you can meet to avoid "maintenance" fees, but the balances have gone up -- to $3,400, on average, for interest checking, so it's harder to sidestep the fee.

WHAT YOU CAN DO: Community banks, online banks, and credit unions usually don't charge. Consider one of them. If you want to stick with a big bank, ask about deals for employees of your company; sometimes minimum-balance requirements are nixed if you have direct deposit.

Finally, you can consider regular checking rather than the interest-bearing kind; fees are much lower ($1.77 a month, on average).

Being charged for not charging:
A few credit card issuers have started levying annual fees on less active users to encourage them to spend. Citibank, for example, slaps a $60 fee on certain cardholders unless they charge $2,400 within a year. And US Bank Visa Platinum dings you $40 if you don't use your card during a 12-month period.

WHAT YOU CAN DO: Look into switching to a card issued by a credit union (
Findacreditunion.com). Credit unions typically charge fewer fees than big banks do.

Hidden hotel fees:
Some hotels charge extra fees for safes, business/fitness centers, newspapers, gratuities and resort fees. If you're booking through an online vendor, such as Orbitz, Travelocity, or Expedia, know before you go.

Call the hotel before you buy and confirm whether they charge these additional fees and what they are. If you're already at the hotel, and NOT using the service, ask to have it removed from your bill. Some hotels remove fees for safes, business/fitness centers, newspapers, resort fees and gratuities from your bill. If the latter, explain that you've already tipped the staff (assuming you have).

Here are some examples of the hidden fees:
Groundskeeping - Make sure to take time to smell the roses in that lushly landscaped garden because you are likely to billed $3 or more a night for the effort involved in keeping the greenery perky.

Towels - Need a towel at the pool? Expect to pay a buck or two. Don't scamper off to your room with it either, as you may be billed $5 or more if you forget to return it to the attendant after your swim.

Business center, fitness room - If there's a room with special equipment in it you'll probably get charged for simply staying in the same hotel with said equipment, even if you never venture into the business center or gym. Fees typically run $5 - $10 a day. At resorts, this is typically called the "resort fee."

Safe - Hotels are tacking $1 - $3 dollar a night "Safe Warranty" fees onto bills to cover the cost of providing the safe and the insurance policy that covers the things stored in it. (Good luck collecting anything if that in-room safe is burgled though, as most hotels post signs disclaiming responsibility for valuables.)

Housekeeping, bellman gratuity fees - These folks certainly deserve to be paid well for their hard work, and most travelers show their appreciation with tips. But before you dig out the dollars, be aware that fees of $10-$30 a stay are being added to some hotel bills to cover housekeeping and bellman gratuities.

Water and newspapers - How nice that a bottle of pure spring water was thoughtfully left in your room. Don't drink it. Chances are it's not a gift and you will be billed anywhere from $4-$6 a bottle. The newspaper that shows up at your door in the morning? Expect to be billed for the "convenience."

Resort Fees - Resort fees are daily charges hotels add to your bill for things you might expect to be complimentary, like access to the fitness center or swimming pool and daily newspaper delivery. The fees can range from ten dollars a day upwards of thirty or forty dollars, impacting your bill quite a bit. You should be informed of resort fees when you check in. If you don't plan to use the facilities included in the resort fee, the best time to protest the fee is when you are checking in. Ask to speak to a manager and make your case. (Once, I checked in to a hotel for a 12-hour overnight layover and knew I wouldn't be using anything outside of my room; I successfully had the front desk waive the resort fee.)

If the resort fee includes tips to bell staff, you should understand that no additional tips are necessary. Pay attention when you are checking in to what you are signing; better yet, ask about a resort fee at the time you book your room at any resort.

Giving your cash away at the ATM:
The cost of using an ATM that doesn't belong to your bank just keeps going up and up. You'll pay one charge to your own bank (average: $1.32) and another to the bank whose ATM you're using (average: $2.22). Big banks tend to charge more than smaller ones.

WHAT YOU CAN DO: Some major banks, including Bank of America, Chase, and Wells Fargo, have smartphone apps that help you locate ATMs on the go. Use them. Have an iPhone? Download the free ATM Hunter, which finds locations for thousands of banks. If you can't be bothered to go out of your way for the right machine, choose a checking account from an online bank that refunds ATM charges. Charles Schwab stands out: Unlike some other online banks, it doesn't impose a limit on how many fee-free transactions a month you can make.

Coughing up to chat with a human being:
(This is my biggest pet peeve. I won't do business with a company that does this. It tells me customer service is at the bottom of their priorities.)

Many businesses -- from airlines to credit card companies to computer manufacturers -- have added another hurdle, in the form of a fee. You'll pay more money to talk to a live agent. Try to do your business online, which is what firms want you to do anyway. If that doesn't work, make the call. The first tier or two of customer service isn't going to be empowered to relieve you of the fees. Ask for a manager. Make a reasoned argument for why you need assistance. Note that you are a good customer who either is spending a lot of money (on a plane ticket, for example) or pays the company each and every month (for cable TV, say).

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