Nobody likes paying fees — especially when it comes to credit cards. After all, any fee represents money that provides no benefit to you.
The good news is that you can avoid credit card fees fairly easily. Tweak your spending habits and look for credit cards with few or no fees, and you might be surprised at how much money you can save over time.
1. Pay on Time
Credit card issuers charge late fees when your payment doesn’t arrive on time. Federal law requires financial regulators to set caps on late fees, reviewing them each year and adjusting them for inflation. For 2019, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau capped a late fee at $28 for the first offense and at $39 if you’re late again within the next six billing cycles. The late fee can never exceed your minimum monthly payment.
While this might seem like a small amount, it can add up fast, especially when the late fee is added to your balance and you must pay interest on it. Set up billing alerts and reminders to ensure you make your payments on time each month to avoid late fees.
2. Pay Off Your Balance Each Month
One of the biggest fees you’re likely to pay on your credit card is the monthly interest charge. In most cases, you have a grace period of 21 days to make your payment before the interest is applied. So, if you get into a rhythm of paying your entire balance off when your credit card bill arrives, it’s possible to avoid this fee.
I use a rewards card for most of my monthly spending, but I make sure all of my spending falls within my regular budget. Groceries, gas and other expenses help me earn free travel. But I don’t pay interest because I keep my spending within a budget. That way, it’s no trouble to pay off the charges each month. It’s important to track your spending so you don’t end up carrying a balance and paying interest.
3. Avoid the Annual Fee
Plenty of credit cards out there don’t charge annual fees. You can even find great rewards cards that don’t have them. Before you apply for a credit card, double-check that the annual fee is zero.
Read the fine print, though. Some issuers waive your annual fee for the first year and impose a fee after that. If you’re a good customer, though, you might be able to persuade your credit card issuer to continue waiving the annual fee.
In some cases, though, an annual fee might be worth paying. Some premium cards with annual fees normally let you earn rewards faster, and they typically come with bigger rewards and other perks. If you know you’ll use a companion ticket or an airport lounge regularly — and you know the value of your rewards will exceed the annual fee — it might be worth the extra expense.
4. Don’t Use the ATM
When you need cash, it’s tempting to use the ATM to get an advance from your credit card. This can result in more fees, though. The owner of the ATM likely charges a fee to withdraw cash, and the credit card issuer probably will hit you with fees, too. On top of that, many credit cards charge a higher interest rate for cash advances than they do for purchases and balance transfers.
Rather than risking all the fees, use a debit card to get cash from an ATM — preferably at an ATM owned by your bank so you’re more likely to avoid fees. Also, many grocery and discount stores let you get cash back at no extra cost when you use a debit card. And, of course, you can always walk into a bank branch and get fee-free cash from a teller.
5. Avoid Foreign Transaction Fees
Some credit card issuers charge a foreign transaction fee up to 3% on every purchase made in another country. If you’re traveling abroad and using your credit card, this can add up quickly. Look for a credit card that doesn’t charge a foreign transaction fee.
6. Get a Fee-Free Balance Transfer
A balance transfer can be one way to tackle debt faster. However, some credit card issuers charge a fee of 3% to 5% for balance transfers. Look for special offers that waive balance transfer fees and that offer 0% APR for a certain period.
7. Check the Fee Schedule
Before you apply for a credit card, check the fee schedule. Federal law mandates that fees be listed clearly on issuers’ fee schedules, which you can find online or in a credit card offer you receive by mail. Armed with this information, you can compare credit cards and pick the ones with the fewest or lowest fees.