COMMENT:

It's bad enough paying for goods and services - but finding you have had extra fees tacked on can be financially draining.

Five bucks here and there adds up to way more than most people realise.

Organisations everywhere are looking for clever ways to add fees to whatever they sell.

Advertisement

Authorised financial adviser Tony Walker at ImPower told me he once heard an insurance company business manager commenting about how added fees went straight to the bottom line. You remember the cost of the item, not the additional fee.

Sorted.org.nz's new Smart Investor tool makes searching industry data including fees easy. The difference between 0.35 per cent per annum on a balanced fund and 2.6 per cent can add up to tens of thousands of dollars over your working life.

Subscription-based software is one of the more clever approaches to fees. Back in the day I'd buy office software or photo-editing packages for a one-off fee and they would still be working years later. These days software such as the office programs and accounting packages are almost all on subscription models where you pay a monthly fee.

Banking has quite a few gotchas that hit the poor more often than not. One "egregious fee" that gets Peter Neilson, former minister of revenue and currently managing director of Thoroughbred Consulting Limited, is late fees on credit cards when the bank has randomised your payment date so you cannot set up an automatic payment on a standard balance date.

"Most people won't challenge the $10 or $15 fee because it is not worth the hassle of trying to get it reversed," says Neilson.

Insurance companies sometime charge policy fees on top of the premium, says Walker, and it annoys him. "I have a medical insurance policy with Partners Life. I have been very happy with the insurance, but the policy fee of $14.45 per month really irks me." His 27-year-old son is on the policy. If his son was to buy his own insurance there would be two policy fees.

Who doesn't hate fees on tickets? One team member at Age Concern told me: "I thoroughly loved my trip to the Terracotta Warriors. When paying for my ticket which clearly states it as $19.50, I handed only a $20 note to be told there is a $2.50 charge on all transactions even cash transactions."

Charging for paper bills hits older people in particular who don't have access to the internet.

Sister Kilian de Lacy, budget adviser at Agape, particularly dislikes the $30 Spark charges per year for paper bills: "I have written to Spark's CEO and received a very unsatisfactory reply."

When customers of utilities are hit with late fees they are often charged dishonour or unarranged overdraft fees by their banks. They start at $2.50 a time at one bank or $5 to $10 a month at others.

More parking meters are going electronic, as we carry less cash, stinging us with credit card fees. As mortgage broker Sue Tierney points out, they also make us pay in advance when we have no idea how long we will stay. "I used to love leaving my ticket with surplus money in the ticket box for the next person to use," she says. But parking tickets are now linked to a registration number.

And a new breed of currency providers such as TransferWise and XE Money Transfer will eventually force the banks to offer a better deal. At the moment the only real way you can use these services for holiday cash is to have it sent to someone you know in the country you're visiting. When TransferWise launched its borderless account in New Zealand it said that it would be rolling out a debit card here sometime this year. Bring it on. The card will let you spend anywhere in the world at a favourable exchange rate, with extremely low conversion and transaction fees compared to banks.

On a better note I have to report that I bought two airfares last weekend; one direct through Qantas and the other on Expedia. To my surprise neither loaded extra fees and I paid the price shown in the search results.