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31 Worst Fees in America

05/21/2015 11:28 am ET | Updated May 21, 2016

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By Paul Sisolak, Contributor

Fees are everywhere. It seems like no matter how carefully you spend your money, you're always getting hit with some superfluous surcharge. At the bank, while traveling or just when going about your daily business, fees are on the rise in seemingly all industries -- and not just in quantity, but in price. Many times, they're so well obscured that you end up paying fees without even realizing it.

We've compiled a list of the most expensive, egregious, unexpected and just downright unreasonable charges of 2015; our guide includes data on average expenses, the biggest offenders in each category and how you can keep these fees from sneaking up and taking a bite out of your budget. From bank and travel fees to cellphone and health care expenses, read on for the 31 worst fees in America.

1. Worst Bank Fee: Overdraft Fees

Why: Spending or withdrawing more money than what's in your checking account will trigger a hefty overdraft penalty from your bank, even if you were short by just a few cents. In 2014, the average U.S. overdraft fee was $30, according to a study by Moebs Services. That can go even higher; NerdWallet has clocked in some of the industry's worst at $36, charged by BB&T, PNC, SunTrust and U.S. Bank.

The fix: The best way to avoid overdraft fees is to simply become hypervigilant about your account balance and monitor your finances at all times. Conversely, consider switching to a credit union or online bank that offers free checking products or opt-out practices. If you want to keep your current bank, you can try to get the overdraft fee waived: Appearing in person at your bank branch is helpful, as is remaining polite and courteous. Emphasize that the overdraft was just one error in an otherwise exemplary banking record.

2. Worst Bank Fee: Teller Fees

Why: Did you know that bank tellers can charge you for their time? According to CNBC, a growing number of banks have adopted teller fees in an attempt to encourage customers to make use of online-only bank accounts and features. These include PNC's Virtual Wallet account, which charges a $7 monthly fee if account holders want access to in-branch banking, and Bank of America's eBanking checking account, which assesses an $8.95 monthly maintenance fee unless the account holder uses only self-service options for deposits and withdrawals.

The fix: Obviously, the easiest way to get around this charge is to abide by the rules; indeed, banks are making it easier and easier to never have to enter a branch these days, with remote check deposit, mobile apps and plentiful ATM access. There are also usually other ways to waive a teller fee; in the case of PNC's Virtual Wallet, you can get around the monthly charge by maintaining an average balance of $500, receiving a $500 direct deposit each month or meeting the requirements for Virtual Wallet Student.

3. Worst Bank Fee: ATM Fees

Why: There is nothing stopping you from using a Chase ATM with your Wells Fargo debit card, but because banks prefer their customers to stay within their network, there will likely be a fee tacked on to that withdrawal. And financial institutions are cashing in on it, too; The Associated Press reports that ATM fees are on the rise. The worst part is you'll probably be charged two fees for using an out-of-network ATM -- one by your bank, and the other by the bank whose ATM you're using.

The fix: Avoid ATM fees by staying in-network. If you find yourself constantly searching for a nearby ATM, find a local credit union that offers access to a shared network of ATMs or switch to a bank that refunds ATM fees (many online banks, like Ally, Bank of Internet USA and EverBank, will do this if you meet certain requirements).

4. Worst Bank Fee: Minimum Balance/Monthly Maintenance Fees

Why: Many banks put pressure on consumers to maintain a minimum monthly balance in their checking accounts; fall below the amount they specify -- for example, $2,500 -- and you could be charged a fee, anywhere from a couple bucks to $20 or $30.

The fix: Protecting yourself from this fee might involve finding a bank account with lower requirements. Account holders of TD Bank's Convenience Checking, for example, only need to maintain a $100 minimum balance to avoid a monthly fee, and other accounts -- especially at online-only banks -- have no minimum balance requirements whatsoever.

5. Worst Bank Fee: Early Account Closure Fees

Why: Many people also don't realize that their bank will require them to keep their savings or checking account open for a minimum amount of time (often 90 to 180 days). Closing it before this grace period could subject them to an inconvenient fine -- as much as $55, according to a 2012 study by advocacy group Consumers Union.

The fix: If you have regrets about opening an account and you're dead set on closing it, minimize your activity and keep the account alive for as long as it takes to avoid being penalized.

6. Worst Bank Fee: Transaction Search Fees

Why: If you can't find a specific bank statement from a while ago or you need to dispute a strange charge on your account, you can ask the financial institution to investigate -- but it will cost you money. TD Bank's Convenience Checking account, for example, will charge you $25 to give you an old statement with check copies and deposit reconstructions.

The fix: A transaction must be pretty important if you need to go back a long time to find it, and sometimes your bank is the only source. However, for the future, try syncing your accounts to apps like Mint or Spending Tracker. These will record each transaction you make and keep them searchable without the need to hire your bank.

7. Worst Bank Fee: Paper Statement Fees

Why: More and more banks are charging customers if they want to keep receiving paper statements -- and some are giving account holders certain incentives, like higher interest rates, for going paperless. If you find you're being charged several dollars a month just for receiving a monthly statement in the mail, it might be time to re-evaluate how important that piece of paper is to you.

The fix: Your best, most modern solution is to sign up for paperless, electronic statements. You'll save money, help the environment and have better access to your money 24/7.

8. Worst Bank Fee: Debit Card Replacement Fees

Why: Losing your debit card is a headache already, but adding insult to injury is the fact that you'll have to pay to replace it. What's more, the cost goes up the quicker you want a new piece of plastic. Banks usually won't charge you a fee if your card was stolen, but otherwise the cost averages $1.75 from bank to bank, according to U.S. News & World Report. You get what you pay for: While it's a seemingly low fee, you'll have to wait anywhere from three to 15 business days for a new card. Meanwhile, if you ask to expedite the shipping, you could pay upwards of $30 -- roughly the equivalent of an overdraft fee.

The fix: Like the insidious overdraft penalty, the key to avoiding a replacement fee is to keep careful watch of your debit card and not lose it. If you do, try to take out cash through a teller and be patient until your replacement card arrives.

9. Worst Bank Fee: Money Transfer Fees

Why: Back in the day, some bank services used to be free of charge, and a wire transfer was one of them. Today, it's yet another utility with a fee attached to it, usually between $15 and $35, depending on the bank and where the money is going. Foreign wire transfers can easily pass the $50 mark -- BB&T charges $65 for its international foreign currency outgoing wires, for example.

The fix: If time isn't an issue, alternative payment methods like PayPal, or the old fashioned paper check, are fee-free ways to send money. Your only cost would be waiting for funds to clear, which could take several days.

10. Worst Bank Fee: Deposited Item Returned Fees

Why: Now you see some money, now you don't, and now you've been charged a fee for it: A deposited item returned fee penalizes the recipient of a check when the check writer doesn't have enough funds in his account to cover the transaction. It's a pernicious cost that blames you, the recipient, when you've done nothing wrong.

Of the 10 biggest banks, SunTrust is the worst offender, with a $40 fee for returned foreign transactions, according to MyBankTracker. The average domestic charge from bank to bank, however, is closer to $13.

The fix: The best recourse you can take to bypass this fee is to contact the check writer first to verify that he has enough funds to clear the transaction. Should you be charged this fee in the future, try to negotiate with your bank, much like you would with an overdraft -- many financial institutions will realize you weren't really at fault, especially if you have a good track record with them.

11. Worst Bank Fee: Investment Fees

Why: You might stand to earn some money on that new investment, but you'll also lose some in fees, too. "Most investors remain blissfully unaware that they are paying hundreds, if not more than $1,000, in investment fees each year," writes Elizabeth MacBride of CNBC. According to Forbes, investors are typically charged 1 percent each year on their first $1 million being managed, but this can go higher in certain cases.

The fix: Cutting your costs and fees might be as simple as comparison shopping for a new adviser with cheaper rates and a different investment approach. According to MacBride, recent numbers show that active and passive investors tend to earn the same, but passive investors pay less in adviser fees. When in doubt, go with Warren Buffett's favorite investment: the low-fee, low-risk S&P 500.

12. Worst Travel Fee: Ticket Change Fees

Why: Changing or canceling your airplane ticket at the last minute can be so expensive that the price you paid for your flight might seem like pennies compared to what you'll pay in fees. "Many airlines charge a reasonable $25-­75 for same­-day changes, but any other changes and cancellations may incur some serious fees, particularly when it comes to Delta (up to $450), US Airways (up to $750), and United (up to $1,000)," according to Hopper.com.

The fix: Planning your schedule ahead of time minimizes the chances of a ticket cancellation fee, but in the event that your itinerary is prone to spontaneity, seek out refundable tickets or ticket insurance. If your credit card is airline-branded, use it to buy your tickets -- you'll be less likely to be hit with fees if your plans change.

13. Worst Travel Fee: Baggage Fees

Why: Airlines across the board impose fees for bags, and raise those fees for extra and overweight luggage. It's not just checked baggage, either; according to Hopper.com, some airlines (including Allegiant, Frontier and Spirit) are beginning to get wise and charge for carry-on bags, too. (Spirit will charge non-members as much as $100 for a carry-on.) If you're checking bags, size does matter: Expect to pay $100 for bags between 50 and 70 pounds if you're flying American, United or Delta, and $200 for bags that are between 71 and 100 pounds.

The fix: Unless you can find a way to travel with only the clothes on your back, pack light to reduce your fees. Items like toiletries and other essentials that weigh your baggage down can easily be purchased once you reach your destination.

14. Worst Travel Fee: Rental Car Fees

Why: Loss-of use fees, early return fees, multiple driver fees: It's hard to pick the worst rental car fee because there are so many. Arguably the worst -- and most expensive -- offender is the one-way charge. "Hertz, for example, will rent you a Toyota Corolla in Los Angeles for $553 for two weeks if you return it to Los Angeles, but you'll pay $1,714 to return it to San Francisco," according to SmarterTravel.com. This fee can really feel like a slap on the wrist because it limits where you can drive.

The fix: Get around this fee by avoiding a one-way rental; plan your trip so that you'll return the car in the place you picked it up. If one-way is the only option for you, try calling the rental office in your pickup city and ask them if they need your make and model at their branch in your destination city. They get a car, you dodge a fee.

15. Worst Travel Fee: Wi-Fi/Internet Fees

Why: While that cross-continental trip might be a time to get some in-flight work done, prepare to pay for your internet connection. Apart from occasional promotions, airlines charge as much as $19.95 for internet on your mobile device and up to $49 for laptops, according to Hopper.com.

The fix: If your business online is that imperative, take care of your computer time while waiting at the terminal. Alternatively, book your flight with an airline that's offering a free Wi-Fi promotion; JetBlue, for example, is currently giving customers its basic broadband internet, Fly-Fi, for free while it's in its beta stage.

16. Worst Travel Fee: Pet Travel Fees

Why: We want our pets to travel with the same comforts we have, and airlines won't let us spare any expenses. According to Farnoosh Torabi, writing for Yahoo Finance, it'll cost you between $125 and $250 at most major airlines to have your pet travel in the cabin with you.

The fix: Is it possible to leave your pet at home with a family member or friend while you're away? Look into options at home before you take to the skies to avoid hefty fees.

17. Worst Travel Fee: Unaccompanied Minor Fees

Why: Even the most well-behaved, low-maintenance children aren't exempt from the high unaccompanied minor fee, which averages between $75 and $125 for most airlines, according to Hopper.com. Pass over American, United and U.S. Airways if you don't want to pay the $150 -- and that's not including the underage passenger's ticket price.

The fix: Do your research before booking, since some airlines don't allow minors to fly without an adult companion. As always, price compare carriers to see which offer the lowest fees.

18. Worst Hotel Fee: Room Wi-Fi Fees

Why: Wi-Fi connectivity is a luxury even at a luxury hotel. "High-end hotels may be the last place left on Earth where you have to pay for wireless internet connections," writes Scott McCartney of The Wall Street Journal. "For in-room connections, high-end hotels typically charge $10 to $20 a day" -- though some run to $30.

The fix: Research the hotel chains you're looking to stay at, compare their in-room internet prices -- and aim lower. "Price-sensitive chains have made free Wi-Fi a perk to attract customers, and all want to stay competitive," McCartney writes.

19. Worst Travel Fee: Resort Fees

Why: The dreaded resort fee is one of the worst -- if not in cost, then in principle. When Los Angeles resident Benjamin Brin recently filed a lawsuit against the Las Vegas Palazzo hotel, it was for a $28 resort fee that he wasn't made aware of, according to the Los Angeles Times. Ranging as high as $50 or $60 at some hotels, resort fees are especially annoying because you'll still incur them even if you don't take advantage of the hotel's amenities.

The fix: Call ahead to any hotel you're considering and ask if it charges a resort fee; if the hotel isn't forthcoming with you, pass on staying there.

20. Worst Travel Fee: Mandatory Gratuity Fees

Why: What once was optional is now becoming expected. "A few hotels, mostly resort properties, already add mandatory gratuities on top of resort fees," reports CNBC. For example, guests at the Atlantis Paradise Island resort in the Bahamas are required to pay between $20.70 and $65.95 for a mandatory "gratuity and utility service fee." If American hospitality chains catch on to the trend, that housekeeping tip envelope left in your room could just become part of the room bill.

The fix: Good, frequent tipping etiquette can go a long way to keeping hotels satisfied with their current gratuity system. Always bring cash with you when you're staying in a hotel and tip the housekeeping staff daily.

21. Worst Travel Fee: Restaurant Affordable Care Act Surcharge

Why: In the aftermath of the passing of the Affordable Care Act, a number of restaurants around the country protested by tacking fees onto the bill to cover their employees' health care. The profits didn't necessarily go to their employees though; according to the San Francisco Chronicle, the city's attorney general discovered in 2013 that more than 50 Bay Area eateries were profiting from the fee instead of using it to purchase health insurance.

The fix: If this fee is simply unpalatable to your finances, steer clear of eateries that charge it.

22. Worst Health Care Fee: Facility Fees

Why: Visits to the doctor's office or hospital can be pricey, even if you have insurance, but another expense known as the facility fee could jack up the price of your medical bill even more. "Hospitals charge these fees because, like many providers, they aren't paid for a large part of what they do," writes Tammy Worth of Medical Economics. "They get no money specifically for having an emergency room that can treat patients 24 hours a day." According to a 2014 report by the Connecticut attorney general's office, these fees ranged from $100 to $1,000 in the state.

The fix: Protect yourself from the possibility of incurring a facility fee by looking up the medical centers in your area; their websites should provide information on the services, costs and fees they charge. Double check with your health care provider to see if it covers these fees under your plan.

23. Worst Cellphone Fee: Early Termination Fees

Why: If you want to buy a new cellphone, you might have been stalled by the ominous early termination fee (ETF) you'd have to pay on your old plan. These fees depend on how much time you have left in your current plan, but can be substantial: Take Verizon Wireless, which charges $350 if you leave the plan early; that number goes down as you near the completion of your plan, but you'll still have to pay something if you decide to terminate early.

The fix: The Federal Communications Commission suggests finding out as much as you can about a carrier's ETF, how much it costs and if it's prorated. Ask about trial periods (which typically allow customers up to a month of service without any ETFs), or buy a prepaid phone, which carries zero fees.

24. Worst Cellphone Fee: Activation Fees

Why: You'd think that the cost of upgrading a cellphone would only include the new device and any contractual differences -- think again. Refuse to pay the "activation fee," and you'll have a new iPhone in your hands that doesn't work.

"The fee is applied to any new line of service opened with a subsidized phone on a two-year service plan," according to product comparison site WhistleOut. AT&T's activation fee, for example, is the most expensive at $40, and that charge skyrockets when you've got more than one phone to activate.

"While $40 for a new phone line might seem affordable, if you're moving a family of four or more to a new carrier, costs quickly add up," the site notes. "To open an account with four new devices and lines of service will cost you an extra $160 or more on top of any upfront costs for your handsets, as well as the monthly cost of the plan itself."

The fix: Check with your cellphone provider about any fees before you make changes to your plan, and don't forget to look into other, more affordable plans you might be overlooking.

25. Worst Education Fee: College Application Fees

Why: It's no secret that attending college is an expensive proposition, but prospective university-bound students should keep in mind that they'll be paying money toward their education even before setting foot on campus. Apply to several schools on your short list, and application fees can really add up. According to U.S. News, Stanford University's nonrefundable $90 application fee tops the list. Other schools, including the University of Southern California and the University of North Carolina--Chapel Hill, will charge you upwards of $80 to apply. Typically, the better the school, the costlier it is to apply.

The fix: Schedule times to visit the colleges you'd like to attend, and make appointments with admissions counselors to see if their school would be the right fit for you. Don't apply to a school you wouldn't want to go to. By narrowing down your list of favorite colleges, you'll reduce the amount of applications and save money.

26. Worst Education Fee: Student Exchange Fees

Why: Studying abroad can be a valuable experience, but it's also an expensive endeavor. According to ExchangeStudentWorld.com, the cost of a year-long exchange typically ranges between $9,000 and $10,000. For groups like ASSE International, studying in French Canada can be as high as $13,100. Like applying for any collegiate program, application fees are steep: In the case of the ASSE, the preliminary fee is $200 just to be considered as a candidate (though it's refundable if you're not accepted into the program).

The fix: If your heart is set on an exchange program, look into alternate funding methods. Community groups like the Rotary or Kiwanis Club often sponsor local students and help with financing for their studies overseas. Don't forget to look into scholarship offers that can help ease the financial cost, too.

27. Worst Education Fee: Test Registration Fees

Why: Attending graduate school takes a lot of time, effort and, well, money -- one reason why 40 percent of the $1.1 trillion student loan debt problem stems from graduate and professional degrees, according to U.S. News. Getting into grad school is all about the testing, and those fees alone are enough to send anyone into the red. To take the Graduate Record Examination, you'll pay a $195 fee. Register late and pay an extra $25; cancel your test or change your testing location, tack on another $50.

The fix: These fees are as standard as the test itself, but they're also only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to paying for graduate school. Undergrads who are serious about continuing their education should start saving up for the inevitable test -- and take studying for it very seriously. There's nothing worse than paying $200 to fail.

28. Worst Education Fee: Greek Fees

Why: For many, joining a fraternity or sorority is part of the college experience. But before rushing, remember that pledging isn't cheap. At the University of Central Florida, for example, the average new sorority member will pay $1,280 and the average new fraternity member will pay $605 per semester, according to NerdWallet. That's not including room and board at the local chapter house.

The fix: Are Greek fees worth it? "Students who participate in Greek organizations are more likely to graduate on time," notes NerdWallet. "When compared with students who take a 'victory lap' and stay on campus an extra year, this could amount to thousands of dollars in tuition savings."

29. Worst Personal Fee: HOA Fees

Why: It's like the resort fee of homeownership. Residents of gated communities, condominiums and the like typically belong to a homeowners' association (HOA) and typically owe between $200 and $400 per month for neighborhood, building, pool or tennis court upkeep, landscaping, safety and other amenities, per Investopedia. The more exclusive the community, the higher the fees.

The fix: When house hunting in an HOA community, find out what the fees and your monthly dues cover. It's also recommended to ask for a record of community HOA fees over the last several years to track how they've increased over time. House hunters might also want to consider if being a member of an HOA is right for them. "Are you the type of person who hates being told what to do? If so, living in a community with an HOA may be a very frustrating experience for you," says Investopedia. "One of the major benefits of homeownership is the ability to customize and alter the property to suit your needs, but HOA rules can really interfere with this."

30. Worst Personal Fee: Patent Fees

Why: Those budding Thomas Edisons or Steve Jobs of the world might assume that when inspiration strikes, it costs next to nothing to unveil your idea or invention to the world. Put on your thinking cap and try again: Patent fees are crazy expensive. The cheapest method is to fill out your own patent application, which can cost about $900, according to PatentFile.org. If your patent is accepted and on file, you'll need to pay frequent maintenance fees over the years, starting at $400 and escalating to $1,850.

The fix: What's a cheaper way to get a patent? According to the site, seeking help from professionals in the field can lower the costs of going it alone: "You can have a patent attorney or agent teach you how to write and file your own patent application. This will save you $1,000s in attorney fees but you will still get a good, high-quality patent application."

31. Worst Personal Fee: Mortgage Junk Fees

Why: Nothing is worse than making the investment of buying a new home and being saddled with a bunch of ancillary costs colloquially known as "junk fees." These can include application and inspection fees, processing, courier and credit check fees, origination and broker fees, and even email and "commitment" fees, according to Realtor.com.

The fix: Know your GFE -- that's the "good faith estimate" your realtor is required to provide you, which includes all the fees and costs associated with buying your house. Scrutinize this list and see if some fees can be knocked off. "Since it is in the lender's interest to proceed with the loan, some of these fees may be able to be reduced or eliminated simply by asking about them -- especially if they seem questionable," according to Realtor.com. "If the lender can't give you a straight explanation, it could be a sign to look for another lender to avoid some mortgage junk fees."

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