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February 2, 2014

Consumer Reports: Costly fees never to pay

Fees! Consumer Reports hates them as much as you do. And not just because all of that nickel-and-diming adds up to a pretty penny. It’s also because they can be hard to escape.

Consumers pay $2.4 billion per year in credit card late fees — and $800 million in expedited payment fees to avoid those late charges. We cough up $31 billion annually in debit card overdraft fees. That’s a lot of $30-a-pop penalties for payments that banks authorized in the first place.

Airline fees can be just as bad. Spirit Airlines, for example, ropes you in with its claim of “ultra-low fares,” then gouges you for $90 to check your first bag at the airport, $110 for the second and $100 per carry-on (round-trip).

Still, many fees can be avoided or minimized. Consumer Reports offers this guide:

• Banking. Banks often give you an escape hatch, so use it to save. Avoid ATM withdrawal fees, usually $2 to $3, by using your own bank’s machines or fee-free ATM network. Or tap the cash back features many supermarkets offer when you pay by debit card.

Avoid big-bank checking fees of $8 to $15 per month by signing up for direct deposit, maintaining minimum balances or switching to a credit union, community bank or branchless online or smartphone virtual bank, where free checking is more common.

• Credit. It’s easy to avoid $65 to $495 in credit card annual fees because only 5 percent of credit cards have them; shop for no-fee, low-interest rate options at bankrate.com. Stop overlimit fees by contacting your card issuer to opt out of plans that let you charge beyond your credit limit.

Knowing your consumer rights is the key to fee-zapping here. There’s almost no need to pay $12 to $17 in credit report fees, because you can get a free copy once per year from each of the three big credit bureaus — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — at annualcreditreport.com.

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