4 surprising credit card fees and how to avoid them

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3 Easy Ways to Avoid Credit Card Fees

Failing to read a credit card's terms and conditions before you apply can cost you money. Plain and simple.

Sure, reading that document is about as exciting as watching paint dry, but the fact is that it contains information you need to know before you use the card. Now, it won't tell you everything you need to know – for example, it may give you a range of possible APRs (say, 12.99 percent to 21.99 percent) rather than telling your exact rate – but it will give you a lot more information than you'd find in an ad.

Much of that information is about fees, including annual fees, late payment fees and balance transfer fees. However, those are far from the only ones.

A recent CreditCards.com survey of 100 popular credit cards showed that the average credit card comes with six different possible fees. Of those 100 cards, only one had no fees: the Pentagon Federal Credit Union Promise Visa card, which doesn't even come with a fee for making a late payment. On the flip side, two cards from First Premier Bank – which markets to those with less than perfect credit – come with as many as 12 possible fees. Several other cards featured nine possible fees.

So what are these fees?

Here's a look at some of the most unusual fees we found in our survey and how you can avoid them.

Credit Limit Increase Fees

Get your credit limit bumped up? That can cost you.

First Premier's terms and conditions, for example, include the following: "Each time your credit account is eligible for and approved for an unsecured credit limit increase, a credit limit increase fee in the amount of 25 percent of the amount of the credit limit increase will be assessed to your credit account."

So if you get a $100 credit increase, you'll have to pay $25 in fees. Fortunately, First Premier cards typically feature low credit limits, so any increase likely would be small. However, it's still something you'd rather avoid. Do that by not requesting a credit limit increase on a card with that fee – and rejecting the increase if the issuer offers you one without you asking for it.

Pay-By-Phone Fees

If you frequently pick up the phone to pay off your credit card bill, you might want to reconsider.

Nearly 1 out of every 10 cards surveyed included this fee, which typically cost $10 to $15. The good news: This fee is easy to avoid. Pay online or just send a check instead.

Account Reopening Fees

There's more to closing a credit card account than calling the issuer and cutting up your card, and this fee can force people to learn that the hard way.

Automatic bill payments are most likely to trigger this fee. Say you just cancelled a credit card. If you don't also cancel all of the automatic bill payments going to and from the card, it can lead to a card account being reopened, whether you want it to or not. These back-from-the-dead accounts are often called zombie accounts and can lead to you being hit with a fee of about $25. Nearly 1 in 10 credit cards surveyed included this fee.

How do you avoid it? Keep track of how many automatic bill payments you have set up for your credit cards, and be sure to account for each one of them when you close that card.

Paper Statement Copy Fees

It's easy to get a copy of a recent credit card statement through your bank's website these days. If you need your issuer to send you a paper copy of an older statement, expect to pay a bit. About 1 in 3 cards surveyed had some sort of fee for hard copies of statements. How much you pay, however, depends on how old the statement is. Some cards charge the fee only if the requested statement is 13 months or more old. Others charge a small fee for statements less than 25 months old and a slightly larger fee for those that are older.

Sometimes this fee will be unavoidable. If you need that statement and there's no other way to get it, you might just have to pay it. However, it might be worth asking the issuer if they'd waive that fee for you. If you've been a good customer, they just might do it.

Remember: It never hurts to ask...

That last point is an important one that far too many people overlook. You have much more power with your credit card issuer than you realize. For example, a CreditCards.com survey last year of nearly 1,500 adults showed that only 28 percent of credit cardholders had ever asked to have a late payment waived, but a stunning 86 percent of those who asked were successful. That means many people are paying late fees that they probably don't have to. The same survey showed that only 23 percent of people had asked for a lower credit card APR, but 65 percent of those who asked for one got one. And if that many people are successfully getting those requests granted, it's reasonable to assume that your odds of getting more obscure fees waived is pretty good, too.

To make the request, call the 800 number on the back of your card. Tell them, if it's true, that you've been a loyal customer with a strong credit history, and you were hoping they could give you a break on this fee. Be polite but direct. Chances are that you'll like the bank's response.

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