The 5 (next) worst hidden fees...and how to avoid them

10Investigates' Noah Pransky continues his series in avoiding paying often exorbitant purchase fees.

TAMPA BAY, Florida – After exposing the "5 Worst Hidden Fees" - including those from banks, cable companies, airlines, and hotels - 10Investigates is back with another round of fees that deserve to be called out.

And, since you deserve a way around them...

10Investigates brings you the following tips on beating those “hidden” fees (in no particular order):

1) Rental car toll charges

Facebook friend Greg Gelyon told 10Investigates he was concerned about the outrageous fees rental cars charge drivers who happen to use tollroads - and the effects on Florida's tourism!

"Weeks later, the rental car company charges you 14.00 for 1.50 in tolls," Gelyon wrote.

10Investigates found the charges can mount up even faster with some rental car companies, with some charging $15 for every single electric toll a driver goes through, turning $3 in charges into a $48 bill weeks later!

But Cars.com expert Kelsey Mays recommends three things:

  1. Before you book, compare what each rental car charges you for driving tollroads.
  2. While you're driving a rental car, utilize the "avoid toll roads" feature on your phone's GPS apps. 
  3. If you get a bill after you've returned the vehicle, contact customer service and see if they'll work with you to remove the administrative charges.

Many rental car companies utilize electronic tolling transponders from PlatePass, a company affiliated with Florida's largest red light camera contractor, American Traffic Solutions.

Here's a Facebook post detailing the "administrative fee" shown below:


 

There may also be some hope on the horizon for drivers of rental vehicles: Florida's Attorney General, Florida legislature, and the impacts of class-action lawsuits are all threatening the rental car industry's excessive fee model.

2) Car dealer fees

At the suggestion of Facebook friend Mary Beth Constante, who called car dealer fees "a joke," 10Investigates asked Mays about all those pesky dealer fees, destination fees, dealer prep fees, online advertising fees, undercoating fees...and even something called a "VIN etching fee."

"A lot of these fees are bogus fees that you don’t necessarily have to pay," Mays said.  "You can really try hard to negotiate them out of the purchase price.”

He advised starting negotiations with these key words:  the “out-the-door” price.  That will disarm car dealers from baiting-and-switching numbers on you or hiding extra fees in the terms of the financing.

“Don’t negotiate on the loan terms yet," Mays continued.  "Just make sure you negotiate on that 'out-the-door' price of the car. And if you get a good price on that, everything else should follow.”

He added that your best piece of leverage in negotiating out all those extra fees is your willingness to walk away.  A car salesman would rather make a small profit than no profit at all.

3) Credit card fees

According to CreditCards.com, the average card comes with six different types of fees, including some little-known fees such as reward-redemption fees, foreign transaction fees, or even fees to increase your credit line.

So before you sign up for a new card, check out this link on how to find a card *free* of most fees.

And, if you find an annoying fee that pops up on that monthly statement, try calling customer service and simply requesting they remove the charges.

"They may occasionally waive fees for you if you ask," said consumer advocate Laurie Zoock from Credit Education Consultants.

“I would say ‘I’m a loyal customer, I’ve been with you a long time, I’ve got good payment history and I’d like you to take this fee off.’  A lot of times, they’ll take it off because they want to keep you as a customer.”

4) Shipping fees

You will save a lot of money shipping those holiday packages if you don't wait until the last minute.  Shipping through the United States Postal Service (USPS) is typically much cheaper than paying FedEx' or UPS' retail prices - especially small packages or packages that can fit in a Priority Mail Flat Rate envelope or box.

However, not all USPS prices are created equal.

Visiting a UPS store can be a convenient way to get that package out, but it's an “approved postal provider," so even though that clerk may tell you

Various UPS stores around Tampa Bay quoted 10Investigates prices between $17 and $24 to ship a shoebox to New England via Priority Mail.  But the same package shipped via Priority Mail from a US Post Office for just $12.80. 

A spokesperson for UPS told 10Investigates, "The UPS Store is a franchise network (and) each of our 4,500 locations are independently owned and operated. In some cases prices may vary among the locations."

"The UPS Store locations can offer a conveniently located alternative to the post office, often with less wait time and extended hours of operation. We also offer a one-stop shop for shipping, printing and mailbox services along with certified packing experts. We strive to be a community one stop shop when it comes to convenience."

5) Ticket surcharge fees

Nobody likes a bait-and-switch, so its no surprise 10Investigates got complaints about event tickets that are advertised at one price....before fees are tacked on at check-out.  It's a battle that predates all of Tampa Bay's major sports venues.

The good news is that fans in Tampa Bay are lucky to attend some of the lowest-priced events in all of the major sports leagues.  But don't expect to beat those fees when you buy single-game Lightning tickets since Ticketmaster adds convenience fees to every purchase, even when you buy your tickets at the Amelie Arena box office.  They are even higher online.

"We specifically have a contract with Ticketmaster that was signed back in 2009 (under) different ownership at the time," said Lightning spokesman Bill Wickett, adding that season tickets and group tickets are exempt from the otherwise mandatory fees.

"We’re very proud of our product," Wickett continued, "and our ticket prices are (among the lowest) in the National Hockey League.  So we think we’re treating people pretty well for the product that they’re getting."

The Tampa Bay Rays - like many other event venues around Tampa Bay - don't charge convenience fees for tickets purchased at the stadium.

But to completely beat the convenience fees on your ticket purchases, go to more Bucs games - there are no convenience fees on any Buccaneers tickets, even when you buy your tickets online.

BONUS: Duke Energy & other energy surcharges

This one was recommended by several viewers - plus a prominent local politician.  

According to former State Senator Mike Fasano, now Pasco County's Tax Collector, nearly 50% of some customers' electric bills have nothing to do with electricity.  And nowhere are the frustrations greater than among customers of Duke Energy.

If you don't know what an "asset securitization charge" is, don't look it up - spellcheck doesn't recognize it either.  But that's the line on your Duke Energy statement that charges you around $40 a year to pay for what amounts to a mistake in Citrus County: the closing of the Crystal River nuclear plant.

But regardless of your utility company, you probably have lots and lots of little fees in there that add up to big expenses.  And much of it ends up in the electric companies' pockets, thanks to state lawmakers and the Public Service Commission, appointed by the governor and confirmed by the State Senate.

Unfortunately for consumers, the only way around most of these fees is to vote out the leaders who have allowed costs to climb.

Send your most-hated hidden fees to 10Investigates' Noah Pransky on Facebook, on Twitter, or confidentially via email at npransky@wtsp.com.

(© 2016 WTSP)


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