Year of the Unfair Fees

The year 2011 was a challenging economic year for many, with housing prices continuing to fall in many parts of the country, with unemployment numbers remaining high and with a credit crunch making it challenging for many to get new cards or unsecured loans.

Those going through economic turmoil were, unfortunately, faced with little understanding from many corporate conglomerates. In fact, so many companies instituted so many silly fees and surcharges that 2011 may as well be known as the year of unfair fees.

Whether you are taking out unsecured loans, opening a bank account or signing a TV service contract, it is up to you to read the contract carefully and be mindful of the fees you are being assessed.

Debit Card Use Fees

Many people who are trying to get out of debt and pay off credit cards, unsecured loans and other obligations may consider making a commitment to avoiding credit and using their debit card instead. Unfortunately, in 2011, many banks wanted to try to make this more expensive for consumers who were trying to be financially responsible.

Faced with a limit on the fees they could charge for debit transactions, a number of banks began to explore the idea of a monthly charge to consumers of between $4 and $5 just for using their debt card. Politicians and the public reacted so strongly against this, however, that the banks relented and gave up the plan. [ed. Just like Suze Orman’s new blunder!]

Fees for Depositing Cash

Also near the top of the list are the fees that certain banks institute to business customers who deposit large sums of money. Some banks will charge a small fee if you deposit in excess of a certain amount, depending upon the type for account you have. For instance, one major bank charges .20 for each $100 in cash deposited over $10,000. The fees are small, but some customers are still upset at the principle. After all, just what is that fee justified by since all you are going is giving the bank your cash to put into your account.

Airline Fees

Airline fees aren’t a new thing and almost everyone is now aware that they’ll be charged for bags on many flights. However, in 2011, some airlines decided to try to take things a step further. Passengers faced fees for booking a ticket, for printing a boarding pass at the counter instead of at home and even for taking a carry-on bag. These surprise fees that hit you may make it difficult to comparison shop for the best flights, making it harder for cash-strapped consumers to find affordable travel.

Early Termination Fees

Early termination fees have become standard for cell phone contracts, but the dreaded charges are now spreading to other industries as well. Some television service providers have now instituted early termination fees for consumers who end their contracts with the service providers early. The cable and satellite companies attempt to justify this by saying they need to cover the prices of the expensive equipment used to provide you with service, but the companies have come under fire anyway. In fact, one major satellite company recently had to settle with regulators over its business practices and cancellation policy.

Watching for Fees

Only by being diligent will you avoid the excessive fees that banks and other companies are beginning to institute in a time when every cent counts.

Post by MoneySupermarket.

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Annual Fees: Scam or Service?

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Annual fees.   For a lot of people, this is the worst possible thing about a credit card.   That’s understandable, since paying interest is voluntary.  If you don’t want to pay it, you just need to pay off your balance within the grace period.   Annual fees, on the other hand, get paid, whether you want to or not, if the are a part of your credit card.

When I was 18, I applied for a credit card that raised an undying hatred of Providian in my heart.   I was dumb and didn’t read the agreement before applying.   When I got the card, I read the paperwork and nearly made a mess of myself.   It had a $200 activation fee, a $100 annual fee, a $500 limit, a 24% interest rate, no grace period, and a anthropomorphic contempt for all things financially responsible.

Yes, you read that right.  The day you activate the card, you are 3/5 maxed and accruing interest at rates that would make a loan shark blush like my grandma is a strip club.   Instead of activating, I cancelled the card and ran away crying.  It was a mistake but didn’t cost me anything.

In exchange for all of that, I got…nothing.   The card offered no services of any kind in exchange for the annual fee.

On the other hand, I have a card with an annual fee right now.   It’s $59 per year, but it offers value in exchange.

This card’s basic offering is a 2% travel rewards plan.    With most of our spending on this card, we’ve managed to accumulate $400 of rewards, so far, counting the 25,000 bonus miles for signing up.

In addition, it offers 24 hour travel and roadside assistance.   The roadside assistance itself will pay for the fee, because I think I’ll be canceling my AAA account after 16 years.    The card’s plan isn’t as nice, but I haven’t been using the AAA emergency services for the past few years, anyway.

It extends the warranty on anything I buy.   It includes car rental insurance and concierge service.      Concierge service is sweet.  Need reservations for dinner?  Call the card.   Need a tub of nacho cheese?  Call the card.  Need a pizza?  Well, call Zappos.com.

All in all, the card is paying for itself a couple of different ways, so in this case, the annual fee is definitely worth it.    I guess there’s a serious difference between Capital One Venture and Providan Screwyou.

How do you feel about annual fees?  Love ’em, hate ’em, have a card with one?

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Credit Cards: How to Pick a Winner

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We live in a decidedly credit-centric culture.   Whip out cash to pay for $200 in groceries and watch the funny looks from the other customers and the disgust from the clerk.    It’s almost like they are upset they have to know how to count to run a cash register.

If someone doesn’t have a credit card, everyone wonders what’s wrong, and assumes they have terrible credit.  That’s a lousy assumption to make, but it happens.   For most of the last two years, I shunned credit cards as much as possible, preferring cash for my daily spending.   Spending two years changing my spending habits has made me comfortable enough to use my cards again, both for the convenience and the rewards.

Having a decent card brings some advantages.

Credit cards legally provide fraud protection to consumers.  Under U.S. federal law, you are not responsible for more than $50 of fraudulent charges.  many card issuers have extended this to $0 liability, meaning you don’t pay a cent if your card is stolen.  Trying getting that protection with a wallet full of cash.

The fraud protection makes it easier to shop online, which more people are doing every day.   At this point, there is no product you can buy in person that you can’t get online, often cheaper.   How would you order something without a credit card?  Even the prepaid cards you can buy and fill at a store will often fail during an online transaction because there is no actual person or account associated with the card.  The “name as it appears on the card” is a protective feature for the credit card processors and they dislike accepting cards without it.

If you’re going to use a credit card, you need to make a good choice on which credit card to get.  There are a few things to check before you apply for a card.

Annual fee. Generally, I am opposed to getting any card with an annual fee, but sometimes, it’s worth it.    If, for example, a card provides travel discounts and roadside assistance with its $65 annual fee, you can cancel AAA and save $75 per year.     A good rewards plan can balance out the fee, too.   I’m using a travel rewards card that has a 2% rewards plan.  That’s 2% on every dollar spent, plus discounts on some travel purchases.    In a few months, I’ve accumulated $500 of travel rewards for the $65 fee that was waived for the first year.  The math works.  A card that charges an annual fee without providing services worth several times that fee isn’t worth getting.

Interest rate. This should be a non-issue.   You should be paying off you card completely every month.  In a perfect world.   In the real world, sometimes things come up.   In my case, I was surprised with a medical bill for my son that was 4 times larger than my emergency fund.   It went on the card.  So far, I’ve only had to pay one month’s interest, and I don’t see the balance surviving another month, but it’s nice that I’m not paying a 20% interest rate.  Unfortunately, as a response the CARD Act, the days of fixed rate 9.9% cards seems to be over.

Grace period. This is the amount of time you have when the credit card company isn’t charging you interest.  Most cards offer a 20-25 day grace period, but still bill monthly.  That means that you’ll be paying interest, even if you pay your bill on time.  To be safe, you’ll need to either find a card that has a 30 day grace period, or pay your balance off every 15-20 days.  Some of the horrible cards don’t offer a grace period of any length.  Avoid those.

Activation fees. Avoid these.  Always.  There’s no card that charges an activation fee that’s worth getting.  An activation fee is an early warning sign that you’ll be paying a $200 annual fee and 30% interest in addition to the $150 activation fee.

Other fees. What else does the card charge for?  International transactions?  ATM fees?  Know what you’ll be paying.

Service. Some cards provide some stellar services, include concierge service, roadside assistance, and free travel services.   Some of that can more than balance out the fees they charge.   My card adds a year to the warranty of any electronics I buy with it, which is great.

Credit cards aren’t always evil, if you use them responsibly.   Just be sure you know what you’re paying and what you’re getting.

What’s in your wallet?

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