Jean Chatzky
Whether you're charged a few bucks to use another bank's ATM or socked with a one-time fee to renew your cell phone contract, small charges can add up over time. Bob Sullivan, a writer for talks with Jean about how the travel, banking, cell phone and student loan industries all use hidden fees as money makers. Bob, author of Gotcha Capitalism: How Hidden Fees Rip You Off Every Day and What You Can Do About It, offers advice on avoiding questionable charges:
  • Check the Internet and ask your friends for the scoop on a company's reputation. "You will find out if they are fair or if they are cheaters," he says.
  • Once you detect a questionable fee, complain effectively. "Have your facts straight," Bob says. "Have paperwork with you so that when you call or go to a store manager, you look like a mature adult and someone who can be negotiated with."
  • Send a letter to your state's attorney general. "Usually one single phone call [to the company] from somebody at the attorney general's office will trigger the VIP treatment," he says. "It won't necessarily get you out of paying your bills, but it will get you into the file where they say, 'All right, we are going to be reasonable with this person rather than treat them like a number.'"