How to avoid hidden fees

The world is a costly place. Prices go up, while income stays the same. It’s hard enough to make your money balance out when you know what you’re spending. Unfortunately, quite often we’re subject to unexpected hidden costs that throw our carefully crafted budgets for a loop.

If you don’t want to pay more than you absolutely need to, stay on the lookout for these common hidden fee culprits.

Internet providers

Your cable and internet bill likely contains more than a few fees you don’t really understand. You may get dinged for an activation fee when you open the account and a cancellation fee when you close it. Some companies like to charge an installation fee, regardless of whether anyone ever comes to your home and installs anything. You’ve also got service fees and upgrade fees to contend with.

Some fees you can bargain your way around. Don’t hesitate to ask to have fees waived.

One common internet-related fee you should always avoid is the monthly modem rental fee. Internet service providers will often loan you a modem and then charge you $5 to $15 a month for the privilege. Depending on your needs, a serviceable modem should only cost between $40 and $100, significantly less than even a year’s worth of rental fees. Buy your own modem and save.

Prepaid debit cards

If you find yourself using prepaid cards to manage your finances, be aware of what you’re agreeing to. Most prepaid cards come with a host of fees, some more hidden than others. Among the potential fees: activation fees, swipe fees, reloading fees, ATM fees, maintenance fees, and even dormancy fees (when you haven’t used your card in a while).

Read the fine print before you start using a prepaid debit card. And if you’re already locked into an account with bad fees, try to minimize the damage. Be strategic about when you deposit and withdraw cash from the account, restricting the number of transactions.

Banks and financial institutions

You have a lot of options when it comes to selecting a financial institution. Often times the bigger, more convenient options can come with some highly inconvenient fees. There are ATM fees, teller fees, overdraft fees, checking fees, check-printing fees, and more.

Do your best to understand all of the potential fees that may come with an account before opening that account. More importantly, be honest with yourself. Are you bad at keeping track of how much money is in your account? Then maybe you should avoid accounts with high overdraft fees. Are you able to comfortably maintain the required minimum balance in your checking account? If not, maybe you need free checking.

Air travel

Plane tickets are expensive, and no matter how much you pay, it still feels like your ticket gets you less now than it ever has. The price of your plane ticket could include a fee for booking on the phone, a fee for booking online, baggage fees, security fees, special carrier-imposed fees, and a $9 U.S. Passenger Facility charge (used to fund airport improvement projects across the country).

Fees differ from airline to airline. Keep in mind that a quoted price may or may not include a laundry list of additional fees. Meanwhile, baggage fees can be minimized by packing light and using luggage that qualifies as a carry-on. If you don’t like dragging your luggage around, stick close to the ticket counter after checking in. Most flights sell out or overbook, and when a flight’s at capacity they’ll often offer a complimentary bag check to save room in the cabin.

Jesse Campbell is the Content Manager at MMI, focused on creating and delivering valuable educational materials that help families through everyday and extraordinary financial challenges.

  • MMI is proud to have achieved an A+ rating from the Better Business Bureau (BBB), a nonprofit organization focused on promoting and improving marketplace trust. The BBB investigates charges of fraud against both consumers and businesses, sets standards for truthfulness in advertising, and evaluates the trustworthiness of businesses and charities, providing a score from A+ (highest) to F (lowest).
  • MMI is rated as “Excellent” (4.8/5) by reviewers on Trustpilot, a global, online consumer review platform dedicated to openness and transparency. Since 2007, Trustpilot has received over 116 million customer reviews for nearly 500,000 different websites and businesses. See what others are saying about the work we do.
  • MMI is a member of the Consumer Federation of America (CFA), an association of nonprofit consumer organizations that was established in 1968 to advance the consumer interest through research, advocacy, and education. Today, nearly 300 of these groups participate in the federation and govern it through their representatives on the organization's Board of Directors.
  • MMI is certified by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to provide consumer housing counseling. The mission of HUD is to create strong, sustainable, inclusive communities and quality affordable homes for all. HUD provides support services directly and through approved, local agencies like MMI.
  • MMI is proudly accredited by the Council on Accreditation (COA), an international, independent, nonprofit, human service accrediting organization. COA’s thorough, peer-reviewed accreditation process is designed to ensure that organizations like MMI are providing the highest standard of service and support for clients and employees alike.
  • MMI is a longstanding member of the National Foundation for Credit Counseling® (NFCC®), the nation’s largest nonprofit financial counseling organization. Founded in 1951, the NFCC’s mission is to promote financially responsible behavior and help member organizations like MMI deliver the highest-quality financial education and counseling services.