How to Win the Battle Against Hidden Fees

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Budgeting is hard enough when you know all the costs you'll need to consider. When companies send you a bill these days, it's increasingly likely that it includes a surprise: That $99 cable bill you were counting on is suddenly $123, and the only information you might have is that it's an added fee.

Consumer Reports has just released a huge study about the rise of hidden fees for American consumers. A full 85 percent of survey respondents said they'd been socked with a hidden fee at some point over the past two years, and a majority say that this is a more regular occurrence. It's a sneaky move on the corporate side, often disguising a price increase and burying the disclosure in fine print. Cell phone bills, hotel prices, credit cards, utilities, live events, investments — all of them are likely to ambush buyers with burdensome extra costs.

You're not without recourse, though. In fact, according to Consumer Reports, just one-third of those who find hidden fees fight them with the company, but two-thirds of them succeed. You have a couple of options, with a wide range of actions. Complaining to the Better Business Bureau or writing a visible online comment is one way to push back; so is joining a movement to work with state or federal regulators. One less intensive method is to just sit down with a bill and analyze all its line items. Familiarizing yourself with spotting hidden fees is the first step toward getting more transparency (and your own money) back in your life.