Ten fees you can do without

How many of us pay for a service we don’t need simply because we can’t be bothered to make a phone call or do a bit of research to find a better, and cheaper, solution?

Fees may be a part of life, but that doesn’t mean you have to simply accept them. They can easily be overlooked when it’s just a few bucks, but even small fees can add up and break your budget if you don’t pay attention.

Fortunately, there are ways to get around these unnecessary charges with a little extra effort.

Here are 10 fees you can avoid with some creativity and careful planning:

1. Landline telephone bill

Millions of Canadian households have replaced their landline telephones with cheaper wireless service.

Ditching your landline does come with some risks; 911 emergency services have a harder time identifying your location, monitored alarms and other services require either a landline or added-cost wireless technology, and during periods of unrest or bad weather, call volumes can increase exponentially causing disruptions to cell phone service.

But if the only calls you get at home are from telemarketers, consider dropping your landline service to reduce household expenses.

Skype, Google Voice, and Voice Over IP services can often bring phone service costs down to just a few dollars a month.

2. Cellphone roaming fees

Talk to your mobile carrier about a pre-paid long-distance and roaming package before traveling to the U.S. or elsewhere.

Paying a bit up front could save you hundreds of dollars, and they usually last for 30 days so if you don’t use them on a first trip you have them for the remainder of the month. But beware – data and text roaming may not be covered, and there are other pitfalls to avoid.

3. Cellphone cancellation fees

Cancelling a cell phone contract or a cable package before the end of the contract can bring fees of several hundred dollars.

Bell and Rogers both charge up to $400 to cancel a cell phone contract early – plus additional fees if you have a data plan. Be aware of the fine print in your service agreement and choose your time to change contracts wisely, or don’t sign a contract in the first place.

If you’re in the market for a new cell phone, you’d be smart to wait for the new CRTC wireless code of conduct to take effect in December. The new rules will let you cancel your contract after two years without penalty.

4. Prepaid credit cards

Visa, MasterCard and American Express offer prepaid gift cards that can be used just like credit cards at merchants across the country. Unlike regular gift cards, prepaid credit cards come with a host of unnecessary fees .

The BMO Prepaid Travel MasterCard comes with a $6.95 annual fee. After the initial expiry date, a $5 inactivity fee will be charged monthly until the balance reaches zero.

Stick to buying regular store gift cards that come without fees and expiry dates. If your bank offers Visa Debit technology then you can use your debit card in the exact same way as a credit card, while avoiding the fees that come with prepaid cards.

5. Airline fees

Pack carefully – Air Canada and WestJet charge $20 for checking a 2nd bag, and bags that exceed the maximum weight or size can cost you an additional $50. And book your tickets online to avoid a telephone booking charge.

6. Banking and ATM fees

Banks and credit unions usually offer accounts that waive monthly fees if you maintain a minimum monthly balance. Online banks like ING Direct and PC Financial offer no-fee banking and don’t require a minimum balance.

Avoid non-bank cash machines in convenience stores, bars and plazas. You’ll be charged $1.50 to $2.50 at the machine and often another levy by your own bank for a total of up to $4.50 a transaction.

Plan ahead, use a smart-phone app to locate your bank’s own closest machine or be aware of other locations.

CIBC customers, for example, can use President’s Choice machines without fees. Credit unions have their own extensive shared ATM network.

7. Coin-counting fees

Rolling loose change is a tiresome chore, so many people use coin-counting kiosks, found in grocery stores and malls, which quickly convert your loose change into paper currency. This convenience comes at a steep price, however, with companies like Coinstar charging a hefty 11.9 per cent fee.

Avoid this fee by rolling your change at home. You can buy coin wrappers at a discount store, or buy a small coin-counting machine for home use.

If you insist on hauling your loose change out of the house, most banks offer free coin counting to their customers. Bank of Montreal coin counters are free to use for both BMO and non-BMO customers.

TD added coin counting machines earlier this year. The service is free to TD customers, but non-TD customers are charged 8 per cent.

8. Credit report

You’re allowed to check your credit report to see what information financial institutions are sharing about your credit history.

It’s a good idea to make sure the information is correct before you apply for a loan or mortgage. However, the consumer reporting agencies want you to pay $15 to order your credit report online, despite the fact that it’s your right to get it for free.

9. Mortgage life insurance

If you own a home, chances are you were offered mortgage life insurance on your property. Homeowners should be aware that mortgage insurance is not required and must not be a prerequisite for qualifying for a mortgage.

Term life insurance is much cheaper and offers greater protection than mortgage life insurance offered by your bank. Mortgage insurance is the one financial product which declines in value as you continue to pay.

10. Gym sign-up fees

Fitness centres are known for pushing a sign-up fee on unsuspecting new customers. Initiation fees can run up to $129 or more and are pure profit for the fitness centre. This is an unnecessary cost when buying a gym membership.

The fitness market is extremely competitive, so shop around for a gym that will waive the sign-up fee.