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How to Detect Hidden Fees

The rate of inflation may be slowing, but the price of many goods and services continue to rise, prompting many businesses to tack on new fees to the basic costs of their services. These fees might not be evident at first glance, so if you want to avoid paying them, or at the very least plan for them in your budget, there are a few things you might consider. 

“Just like the rest of us, businesses are feeling inflation impacts too,” Mechele Agbayani Mills, President of BBB in Central East Texas said. “So you may notice additional fees where there may have not been before.” 

It’s important for consumers to be aware of what fees businesses are adding, and recommends the following to make informed decisions on where to spend their money.

Advertised price may be different from actual price. Some businesses are implementing “drip pricing,” where additional fees are added as you move through the buying process. But before you head to the store or click the checkout button, find out what fees, if any, will apply to your purchase. Be wary of low advertised prices as you may discover expensive cleaning fees, facility fees, administrative fees, fuel surcharges, kitchen appreciation fees, noncash adjustments, and more. 

Comparison shop with fees in mind. Fees make comparison shopping more of a challenge. Be ready to do a little research before you buy. Shop around, considering each business’s fees as you calculate the total cost of any purchase. Harvard Business School found that shoppers typically continue with a purchase – even if they are unhappy with the additional hidden fees. If you think the fees are too high, keep shopping around, recommends the Washington Post.

Say something. Consumer Reports found that 64% of consumers who complained about a hidden or unexpected fee successfully had the fee taken off a bill or refunded. If you get hit with a surprise charge as you check out, try speaking up tactfully and politely.

Budget for fees. In most cases, hidden costs are not illegal, which means there are some hidden fees you might just be obliged to pay. Incorporate necessary fees into your monthly budget, so they don’t break the bank.

Watch out for cramming. Cramming is the illegal act of adding unauthorized service charges without your knowledge or approval. Less-than-scrupulous companies add small charges to your bill and describe them with generic terms, such as “service fee,” “voicemail,” or “other fees.” Learn more about cramming in this BBB Tip.

Reconcile your statements. Take a few minutes to review your statements each month and check for new or unexpected fees. If you find a hidden fee, take it up with the company. They may be willing to reduce or remove the fee in some cases. Even if they don’t, you’ll still want to know what you’re paying for and how much you can expect to pay monthly for recurring bills.

For more information

Learn how to spot and avoid hidden fees when traveling by reading the BBB Tip: Avoid hidden fees when booking your next trip. Read more about keeping costs down during inflation. If you feel a hidden fee is particularly unscrupulous, report it to your State Attorney General or the Federal Trade Commission. If you spot a fee scam, report it at Get more tips from BBB on credit relief and debt repayment services. Read more about budgeting for the holidays.


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