With the stock markets in a downswing and the weak economy threatening your home value and job security, one way to keep money in your wallet—and your investment accounts—is to limit the (sometimes hidden) fees:
Retirement savings: Do you know how much it costs you to invest in the funds in your 401(k)? The difference between paying high and low fees can add up to tens of thousands of dollars. Call your plan provider to make sure your funds don't charge sales commissions (called a "front-end load" or "deferred-sales charge") and that the annual expense ratio is no higher than 1 percent. If your plan doesn't offer lowcost options, you and your colleagues should make a ruckus—the law is clear that 401(k)s must be operated for the employee's benefit, and high-cost funds are of no help to you. The same goes for your Roth IRA—no-load funds and low-expense ratios are the surest way to boost your bottom line. Fidelity, T. Rowe Price, and Vanguard all offer many low-cost funds.
Credit card: If your monthly payment isn't on time, you'll be slapped with a late fee as high as $39. Do that three times a year, and you've donated nearly $120 to the credit card company. Late payments also hurt your FICO score. And never, ever take out a cash advance on your credit card. The cost is often 3 percent of the amount borrowed, and the interest rate can be higher than 20 percent.
Bank account: It's easy to be hit with fees of $3 or more when you use an ATM—a charge from your own bank plus the one from which you withdraw cash. Do that twice a month, and you're spending at least $72 a year.
Recurring payments: Some bills, such as your insurance premium, allow you to choose between making one big annual payment and a series of installments. If you can afford the one-time deal, you'll avoid the $5 or so service charge levied when you pay quarterly or monthly—that's $20 to $60 a year. It's easy to save $200 annually by eliminating these types of fees. Invest that $200 a year for 20 years, earn an annualized 8 percent gain, and you've got nearly $10,000. It pays to be a fee fiend.