Tips to Avoid the 6 Biggest Credit Card Fees

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Credit card fees are a fact of life for many cardholders. In fact, a 2017 analysis of 100 widely held credit cards conducted by revealed that these 100 cards collectively charged a total of 591 fees!  The survey revealed common general purpose credit cards charge an average of six fees each, with some of the cards charging as many as 12 separate fees.

You don't want to send your creditors any more of your hard-earned cash than you have to, so it's worth taking a look at both whether you're being charged common fees that cardholders pay and whether there's anything you can do to avoid these fees.

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Here are six of the most common credit card fees that you should be on the lookout for -- along with some tips to stop sending your creditors this extra cash.

1. Annual fees

Out of 100 credit cards surveyed, only 24 cards charged an annual fee. While annual fees are sometimes worth it if you get lots of perks -- like better rewards or access to exclusive deals -- most people are better off with a card that doesn't charge them just for using it.

If you have a card with an annual fee, one of your best options is to call the card issuer and ask to have the fee reduced or waived. When cardholders called their creditors to negotiate a lower fee, more than 8 in 10 were successful: 31% of callers were able to reduce the annual fee, and 51% were able to get the fee waived entirely.

If your card issuer won't budge and the fee is high, you could close your account -- but be aware that this could adversely impact your credit score by reducing your available credit and lowering your average account age. You can mitigate the damage by making sure you have other open cards with a lot of available credit so you don't get penalized for a high credit utilization ratio.

2. Late payment fees

Almost every card -- 99 out of 100 -- charges a late payment fee if you don't get your bill paid on time. Late payment fees were capped at $37 by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in 2015, but lenders were allowed to raise the fee to $38 in 2016. Just 18 of the creditors kept to the $37 max fees, while the rest who charged a late fee bumped it up to $38.

Paying either $37 or $38 just for not getting a payment in on time is a huge waste of money. To avoid this, set up an autopay from your bank account for at least the minimum due on your card every month. While paying your balance in full is always best, you may not want to set up an auto-debit of the full balance due unless you're confident you'll always have enough cash in your bank account to cover it. But, if you at least auto-debit the minimum, you won't have to worry about getting hit with a late charge.

If you do get assessed a late fee, you can also call your creditor and ask to have it waived. Almost 90% of cardholders who asked for a waiver of their late fees were successful. Of course, your card issuer is much more likely to work with you if the late fee is a one-off, rather than a pattern of behavior.

3. Cash advance fees

Cash advance fees -- fees charged for getting cash from your credit card issuer -- were charged by 98 out of 100 cards. These fees are often the greater of $10 or 5% of the cash advance amount.  You will probably also be charged a higher interest rate if you take a cash advance than the interest you pay when you charge items on your card .

To avoid cash advance fees, don't take a cash advance. You'll also want to read your agreement with your card issuer to find out if you can be charged a cash advance fee for buying "cash equivalents," or items like money orders that could easily be converted into cash. If so, avoid these purchases as well. Personal loans from banks are often much less expensive than a cash advance if you need to borrow cash you don't have.

4. Balance transfer fees

Out of 100 cards, 76 charged a fee for balance transfers. A balance transfer allows you to move money from one card to another. Typically, fees are equal to the greater of 3% of the total balance transferred or a set minimum of around $5 to $10 per transfer.

If you are transferring money from a high interest credit card to a low interest card -- like a card that charges you 0% for a set period of time -- paying the balance transfer fee might make financial sense. But, if you can avoid this fee, you'll be even better off.

You can try simply asking your cardholder to waive the balance transfer fee, as six out of ten cards charging fees -- including cards offered by Wells Fargo and Chase -- waived or reduced this fee for new cardholders. You can also shop around for balance transfer offers that do not require you to pay a fee.

5. Foreign transaction fees

Foreign transaction fees have become rarer, with just 56 out of 100 cards now charging a foreign transaction fee compared with 77 cards that charged this type of fee in 2015. If your card does charge a fee, the fee could add 3% or more to any foreign charge. That's a big fee, especially if you spend a few thousand dollars on your European vacation. And, you could pay this fee while you're still on American soil if you make purchases online from overseas merchants.

To avoid this fee, you'll have to use a credit card that does not charge it, like one of the many credit cards targeted toward travelers. Otherwise, skip using your credit card when you're abroad and consider alternatives like travelers checks.

6. Returned payment fees

A returned payment fee was charged by 80 out of 100 cards and was usually around $37, so you'll pay a hefty sum if you send a check to pay off your credit card bill and that check bounces. To avoid these fees, consider making online credit card payments, which are usually deducted from your account within a day or two. You can check your bank account balance before sending the payment to make sure you have the cash to cover it.

You could also balance your checkbook to make sure you have money to cover the checks you write, or keep a cushion in your checking account so you aren't in danger of bouncing a check. The good news is, by following these tips for avoiding fees, you should be able to keep more of your cash in your accounts -- instead of sending it to creditors -- so you'll have a better cushion to avoid bounced checks and hopefully won't have to worry about this big returned check fee.

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