9 Common Credit Card Fees And How To Avoid Them

Despite the natural hesitancy some feel toward credit cards, they’re a relatively straightforward payment method since the law requires that fees and terms be communicated upfront.

Credit card companies are prohibited from charging hidden fees or obfuscating long-term costs thanks to the Credit CARD Act of 2009. This consumer protection measure helped increase transparency within credit card terms and conditions while limiting fees and interest rates.

That said, we all know that carrying long-term debt on a credit card can rack up thousands of dollars in interest. There are also traditional credit card fees to know about and avoid, which you can easily do by following a handful of simple guidelines.

How to know which credit card fees you’re paying

If you’re curious about fees or charges that apply to any credit card, you’ll want to look for the Schumer Box. Credit card issuers are legally required to provide this easy-to-read table for every credit card. In the Schumer Box, you’ll find the card’s terms and conditions, interest rates and fees.

Here’s an example of what the Schumer Box looks like for the Chase Freedom Unlimited®:

Schumer Box for the Chase freedom unlimited

If you’re comparing credit card offers, you can easily find the fee information and Schumer boxes online by clicking where it says something like “pricing and terms” or “important rates and disclosures.” When you’re approved for a credit card, you’ll typically receive information about your card, including a pamphlet with a Schumer Box, in the mail.

If you don’t hang onto the physical card agreement you receive in the mail and later want to refresh your memory, you should be able to find the same information in your online banking account. You can also call customer service and ask them to email you the fee information associated with your card. Lastly, you can look at the card’s application page online. However, there’s no guarantee that the fees haven’t changed since you were approved for your card.

9 credit card fees you don’t have to pay

If you want to use credit to your advantage, you should strive to avoid all credit card fees and charges. Read on to learn about the nine most common credit card fees, what triggers them and how you can skip them altogether.

Annual fee

Credit card annual fees work similarly to membership fees for other products and services. Cardholders who choose a card with an annual fee will see this charge added to their credit card bill once per year, and they will qualify for another year of applicable cardholder perks when they pay it.

Credit card annual fees are typically somewhat commensurate with the value of the benefits you receive with any given card. For example, you can pay up to $695 per year for a travel credit card, yet cards with fees in this range often offer $1,000 or more in statement credits and cardholder perks.

While paying the annual fee on a credit card can absolutely make sense, you should make sure the perks you’re receiving are worth it to you. For example, you should only pay the annual fee on a card with travel perks like airport lounge access, TSA PreCheck credits and other travel credits if you travel often enough to use them.

How to avoid paying it

The good news about yearly fees is that there are myriad credit cards with no annual fee—rewards cards included.

As an example, the Chase Freedom Flex℠ comes with no annual fee. Still, it offers cash back along with cell phone insurance, trip cancellation and interruption insurance, purchase protection, extended warranties and more.

Finance charge

Credit cards add finance charges to your bill when you carry a revolving balance beyond your credit card’s grace period and due date. These finance charges are assessed based on your credit card’s annual percentage rate, or APR.

How to avoid paying it

You can avoid paying interest by paying your credit card balance in full each month. Of course, this is easiest to accomplish when you only use plastic to pay for purchases you can afford and when you use a credit card in conjunction with a monthly budget or spending plan.

You can avoid finance charges in the short term by choosing a credit card that offers 0 percent APR on purchases, balance transfers or both for a limited time. Many 0 percent interest cards are even available with no annual fee required.

Foreign transaction fee

Some credit cards charge a separate fee when you use them for purchases outside the U.S. This fee, typically around 3 percent of your purchase, can also be charged if you make online purchases with a company based abroad.

How to avoid paying it

The best way to avoid this fee is by using a credit card that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees. Fortunately, most travel credit cards don’t charge foreign transaction fees at all. All credit cards issued by Capital One and Discover are free of foreign transaction fees.

Balance transfer fee

Balance transfer fees come into play when you transfer your balance from one credit card to another, usually to consolidate debt or secure a lower interest rate. While these fees vary, most balance transfer credit cards charge balance transfer fees that add between 3 and 5 percent to your transferred debt amount.

How to avoid paying it

You can look for credit cards that don’t charge a balance transfer fee, although the tradeoff for no balance transfer fee is usually less favorable terms. Your best bet is taking steps to minimize how much you pay in balance transfer fees, usually by securing a card that charges a fee equal to 3 percent instead of 5 percent.

Cash advance fee

Cash advance fees come into play when you use your credit card to get cash at an ATM. This fee can also apply when you use the credit card convenience checks that often come in the mail.

Either way, cash advances are typically charged interest at a higher rate than the standard APR for purchases. Cash advances are also charged interest from day one since they don’t benefit from a grace period like credit card purchases do.

How to avoid paying it

To avoid cash advance fees, you should skip using your credit card to get cash out of an ATM. When you get credit card convenience checks in the mail, go ahead and shred them if you feel tempted to use them.

Late payment fee

Late payment fees show up when you pay your credit card bill past its due date. While these fees can vary, they usually fall between $25 and $40.

How to avoid paying it

To avoid credit card late fees, make sure you always pay your credit card bill early or on time. Set up automatic payments or add your due date on your calendar as a reminder. If you forget and end up with a late fee charge on your account, it never hurts to call your issuer and ask if they’ll waive it.

A handful of credit cards don’t charge any late fees as well, so you can always choose from these options if late fees are a sticking point for you. For example, the Citi Simplicity® Card is a popular balance transfer credit card with no annual fee and no late fees.

Card replacement fee

Card replacement fees can apply when your credit card is lost, stolen or misplaced, and you need to order a new one. However, most credit card companies will send you a replacement card at least once with no charge as a courtesy.

If your issuer charges a fee for this, it will typically fall between $5 and $15.

How to avoid paying it

If your credit card is lost or stolen, call your credit card company to see if they’ll send you a replacement card for free. If they refuse to replace your card without charging you a fee, that’s a good sign it’s time to look for a new credit card from a different card issuer altogether.

Returned payment fee

Returned payment fees usually range from $15 to $40, which issuers charge when the payment you send to your card issuer isn’t accepted. For example, a returned payment fee could apply if you pay your credit card bill with a check that bounces due to insufficient funds.

How to avoid paying it

To avoid returned payment fees, make sure you always have enough cash in your account to cover your credit card payment—even if that means adjusting your payment amount to what you can afford instead of the full balance.

Over limit fee

Finally, some credit cards charge fees if you go over your credit limit. If your credit limit is $5,000 and you make a purchase that pushes your credit card balance to $5,050, for example, your credit card company may approve this purchase and add an over-limit charge to your account.

How to avoid paying it

Make sure you keep a close eye on your credit card limit and how close you are to it during any given month. If you need more available credit than you have right now, consider applying for a new credit card.

Credit card companies are also required to ask you if you want them to allow charges that surpass your credit limit. On the other hand, you can request over the limit purchases be denied at the point of sale instead.

You can also consider getting a charge card instead of a credit card. Charge cards typically come without traditional limits, making them a good option for big spenders. However, they require users to pay their balance in full each month, so they’re not for everyone.

The bottom line

Most credit card fees are unnecessary and easy to avoid. However, this is only the case when you know and understand all the fees your card could potentially charge ahead of time.

By arming yourself with information and using credit wisely, you can maximize the benefits of plastic without paying for the privilege of having a credit card.