Personal finance

Americans fork over billions in hidden fees

You can’t listen to music, go to the movies, rent a car, stay in a hotel — or of course buy a plane ticket — without encountering some sort of extra fee.

About 85% percent of Americans have come up against an unexpected or hidden fee over the past two years for a service they used, according to a recent survey of more than 2,000 U.S. adults by Consumer Reports.

Two-thirds of them say they’re paying more now in surprise charges than they did five years ago.

Whether it’s in travel costs or cable or phone bills, those extra expenses can add up quickly. Taken a flight lately? There are add-on fees on everything from checking a bag and picking a seat to putting your carry-on in the overhead bin.

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Competition in many industries has pushed base prices lower, but to protect profits, companies may tack on a fee at check out. It’s especially hard to detect when you’re comparing prices online since many sites don’t display these extra costs in the advertised price.

It’s a strategy that companies use called “drip pricing,” where the additional fees are dribbled out or, in other words, disclosed little by little.

Earlier this month, hotel chain Marriott International was sued by the District of Columbia over allegedly deceptive “drip pricing” practices that tacked on hidden fees to hotel bills.

According the complaint, Marriott failed to disclose certain fees when it advertised prices for hotel rooms. These hidden charges, which could add up to $95 per day, applied to listings on Marriott’s own website and travel websites such as Expedia.

Hotel costs are just one of several categories of expenses where consumers said they spend more than budgeted because of hidden or expected fees, according to the Consumer Reports survey.

Live entertainment and sporting events are also big offenders. Telecommunications was the top culprit. Nearly 7 in 10 adults said they have experienced a hidden fee from a telecom provider in the past two years, the report found.

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To find these extra charges, read the fine print of a contract and the last page when you purchase an item online. Often, an extra fee is combined with taxes and other costs.

You can always call the company to double-check all the taxes, fees and other charges before you pay (although there is sometimes a processing fee for completing a purchase over the phone rather than online).

It’s even possible to fight back against hidden fees — and win.

In May, power provider Duke Energy scaled back a proposal to raise its “basic facilities charge” for customers in South Carolina after customers and consumer groups complained to the state utility commission.

While only about one-third of consumers try to get a hidden or unexpected fee taken off a bill or refunded, nearly two-thirds of those who tried were successful, Consumer Reports found.

CHECK OUT: Millennials are America’s largest group of homebuyers—here’s how to join them via Grow with Acorns+CNBC.

Disclosure: NBCUniversal and Comcast Ventures are investors in Acorns.

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