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Consumer Alert: New Cell Phone and Credit Card Hidden Fees

*CONSUMER ALERT*

As Americans, we love our credit cards and our cell phones. But if we don’t read the fine print on them, we can find ourselves slapped with some pretty ridiculous fees.

Joe Ridout of watchdog group Consumer Action says that when it comes to credit cards, don’t be tempted by all the offers. For instance, JP Morgan Chase is currently offering what appears to be a bargain on balance transfers: If you paid the bank a balance transfer fee of 3%, you could lock in a low interest rate for the ‘life of the balance’ on the amount that you transferred. These rates are tempting – often 2.99% or 3.99% - so how could you go wrong? Because Chase just introduced new terms that were never part of the original offer. Now they compel cardholders to make larger payments along with a new fee of $10 per month to keep the offer alive that was never included in the original contract.

Credit card companies and banks have a long history of playing fast and loose with the English language, Ridout says. No one stopped them when they decided a ‘fixed’ interest rate wasn’t actually fixed and could change anytime. Federal regulators barely made a peep when credit card companies decided they would consider some customers in default even though they were never late on a payment. This new redefining of the ‘life of the balance’ is just the latest chapter. To avoid it, either pay off your balance or transfer the balance to another card.

The cell phone world isn’t much better. Last month, Verizon started charging its customers $2 for not making any long-distance calls. This ‘shortfall charge’ is now tacked onto bills of those who do not sign up for long-distance or just don’t use the service. Once we start down this road of charging people for products and services they don’t use or don’t want, where does it end?!

It is additionally vexing that not all customers being assessed the new fee chose Verizon as their carrier in the first place, Ridout says. In the aftermath of the AT&T breakup, some customers currently with Verizon were assigned there automatically. Those who haven’t switched in the intervening years are disproportionately elderly, Ridout says. Furthermore, some customers receving the shortfall charge have specifically enrolled in a $0 monthly fee long-distance plan, in which they would pay only for the minutes they used.

With tactics this underhanded, it’s no surprise that more and more people are ‘cutting the cord’ and abandoning their landlines all together.