Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Born Free

The Money site on recently posted a list of "10 Things that Used to be Free" (I know, never start a sentence or title with a numeral, but that's how they had it) at if you want to read the comments and suggestions for avoiding charges. Here's a short form of their list:

1. Airline services
From baggage and leg room fees to charges for in-flight movies, meals and even bottles of water, airlines have "unbundled" many of their complimentary services and passed on these costs to the consumer. When my dad and I flew back from the Left Coast, we could have bought additional leg room. We also could have bought a nice little pillow and a tiny blanket or a two-week-old dried out turkey sandwich. We didn't.

2. Food delivery
Many restaurants now charge a delivery fee, usually anywhere from $1.50 to as much as $6. Then you're expected to tip the delivery person on top of that. I did not know this since we never have food delivered. Huh.

3. Banking
Today, charges abound -- from monthly charges to overdraft and ATM fees. Some banks have even charged for talking to a teller. According to Bankrate's 2011 Checking Account Survey, only 45% of non-interest checking accounts were free, and maintenance fees averaged $4.37 a month last year, up from $2.49 in 2010. The average AMT withdrawal fee for a noncustomer was $2.40. We still have free checking, but I have a bad feeling that it will be going away. On the bright side, a couple of accounts we have for some accounts related to family trusts actually reduced the minimum balance for free checking.

4. Television
Years ago, TVs with "rabbit ears" might have looked silly, but the programming was free. Today, local TV is still free, but more than 100 million American households pay for it through cable and satellite providers, according to research company SNL Kagan, and monthly costs average $50, or $75 for the digital version. Yep. And since Comcast "improved" our service with FIOS, navigating the remotes has become a daily challenge.

5. News
Sure, there's still plenty of news out there for free, but 20% of U.S. newspapers require readers to pay to access online content, according to Mashable. I think this trend is going to continue. 

6. Trash pickup
Trash removal is certainly something we wouldn't want to pay for, and often it's included in your property taxes. But in some areas, that's changing. According to a survey of 70 Indiana cities conducted by Goshen Mayor Allan Kauffman, 46 of those cities have a trash fee, while only 24 have no fee. We have trash, recyling and yard waste pickup which comes out of property taxes. So far. I know people who pay for trash pickup find that the services compete with each other to see who can offer the lowest rates.

7. Gas station services
There was a time when gas station attendants would pump your gas and clean your windshield for free. Today, this complimentary service is nearly gone, with the exception of New Jersey and Oregon, where state laws prohibit self-service. Often, you'll even have to pay to pump air into your tires. Yep. So long, free air.  It was good knowing you.

8. School activities and facilities
As if college tuition wasn't high enough -- the average in-state tuition at public colleges is $8,244 a year, according to the College Board -- schools are increasingly charging extra fees for fitness facilities, parking garages or even campus health services. Pay to play seems to be the name of the game.

9. Directory assistance
Back in the day, you weren't charged for calling directory assistance. Today, calling or texting your carrier's 411 service could cost you a couple bucks. I hate using directory assistance. It's another one of those darned voice recognition programs. 

"Say a city and state, please."
"Manassas, Virginia."
"Montpelier, Vermont?"
"No! Manassas, Virginia! Virginia!"
"St. Thomas, Virgin Islands?"
"I'm sorry, I don't understand you."
"I'll transfer you to an agent."
"Whew. Why didn't you do that in the first place?"

10. Paying a bill by phone
Today, you often have to pay a fee just to pay your bill -- over the phone, that is. For example, DirecTV charges $5, and Verizon charges $3.50 for over-the-phone payments. Yes, and it costs to visit the DMV in person. But who wanted to do that in the first place? Our insurance company charges to pay the bill online, by telephone or through the mail. It's called a "convenience fee."  I called them once and asked who it was convenient for? They replied, for the consumer. I allowed as how it was not convenient for me to pay to pay. They allowed as how they would pass my feedback along. I suppose I'm fortunate they didn't charge me a feedback convenience fee.

1 comment:

  1. HAHAHAHA! This piece would make a great newspaper column, Dan. We should pay you for posting. :)