A How to-Guide on Avoiding the Most Common Credit Card Fees

By Janet Siroto · December 17, 2023 · 6 minute read

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A How to-Guide on Avoiding the Most Common Credit Card Fees

Most Americans swipe and tap their way through the day, using credit cards for a variety of purchases. Plastic is quick and convenient, and it can help a person make purchases they otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford in a single transaction.

But with credit cards come high interest rates…and fees. Often, many different kinds of fees are levied on a single transaction.These charges may be part of the reason why there’s so much credit card debt right now. The average American carries an approximate credit card balance of $7,951.

If you’re trying to control your costs, read on to learn more about these fees, plus smart tips on how to dodge them. It can be a good path to taking control of your credit and your cash.

Breaking Down the 6 Main Credit Card Fees

The best way to sidestep credit card fees is to know what they are. Sounds obvious, but it can be your primary defense in the battle against fees. Here’s a summary of some of the most common credit card fees and advice on how to avoid them.

1. Annual Fees

An annual fee is the yearly price you pay to use a credit card. Not all credit cards have annual fees, but many reward-heavy and premium cards do. It’s not inherently bad to pay an annual fee on a credit card, but it does require busting out a calculator and doing some math. To justify paying an annual credit card fee, you should earn enough in rewards to cover the fee and then some.

How to avoid this fee: Lots of cards have no annual fee or will waive an annual fee in the first year. When choosing a credit card, you’ll want to do some comparison shopping and annual fees should be something you pay close attention to. Ultimately, if you’re going to pay a fee for using a rewards card, you should make sure you’ll be cashing in on rewards you’ll actually use.

💡 Quick Tip: Before choosing a personal loan, ask about the lender’s fees: origination, prepayment, late fees, etc. SoFi personal loans come with no-fee options, and no surprises.

2. Late Payment Fees

Late payment fees are pretty self-explanatory. Basically, some banks will ding you if you miss a payment. Currently, late payment fees can run up to $41, but there’s a movement afoot to cap these. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, for instance, has proposed a limit of $8. But for the time being, these fees are still quite steep.

There are other consequences of late payments worth noting. Your interest rate could go up, for instance.

How to avoid this fee: Consider automating your finances. Specifically, you could set up an automatic payment for at least the minimum monthly payment. That way, you are in a good position to avoid late fees.

If you do miss a payment, call your credit card company and ask them to waive the fee. (If you’re a first-time offender, they might be amenable to it.)

3. Cash Advance Fees

When you use a credit card to withdraw cash from a bank or ATM, you will almost always be charged a cash advance fee. Credit card cash advance fees generally cost 5% of the amount you withdraw or $10, whichever is higher. Also be aware the interest rate on a cash advance is likely to be higher than on “normal” credit card purchases, and interest accrues immediately.

How to avoid this fee: Don’t use your credit card like a debit card. If you’re going to take out cash, it should be with a debit card. If you do have to take out a cash advance on your credit card, try to pay it back as soon as possible. And to avoid needing to take out a cash advance in the future, establish a cash emergency fund that’s easily accessible.

Recommended: Credit Card Interest Rate Calculator

4. Balance Transfer Fees

When you transfer a credit card balance to a new card with a lower interest rate (often 0% interest for a promotional period of, say, 18 months), the new credit card issuer may charge you a fee. The fee is usually 3% to 5% of the balance being transferred. Balance transfer cards usually offer 0% interest rates to new customers who want to transfer their credit card debt — so charging a fee allows them to make some money on the initial transaction.

How to avoid this fee: If a balance transfer card would stress you out with its tight timeline before its interest rates change, you could instead consider taking out a personal loan to pay off your credit card debt. A personal loan will usually charge a lower interest rate than your credit card, but it can allow you to pay off your debt on a timeline that’s right for you.

💡 Quick Tip: Swap high-interest debt for a lower-interest loan, and save money on your monthly payments. Find out why credit card consolidation loans are so popular.

5. Foreign Transaction Fees

If you use a credit card while traveling outside of the country, you may be charged a foreign transaction fee of around 1% to 3%. Once very common, these fees are declining in popularity thanks to the rise of cards with no foreign transaction fees.

Also know that banks may charge currency conversion fees in addition to foreign transaction fees.

How to avoid this fee: Choose a card that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees. There are lots of options out there, it’s just a matter of shopping around. Airline cards often don’t have foreign transaction fees, but plenty of other cards have dropped these fees as well.

You may also be able to use a debit card in a foreign country.

6. Interest

Interest is how credit card issuers stay in business, to a large extent. They are extending you credit to make a purchase, and interest is what you pay for that privilege. Credit card issuers assess interest on any balance that remains on your card after the due date. You will also see this interest rate called the purchase APR.

How to avoid this fee: Pay off your credit card balance in full each month. If you’re unable to do that, pay as much as you can — every dollar counts.

Recommended: Taking Out a Personal Loan to Pay Off Credit Card Debt

The Takeaway

Credit cards can be a convenient way to purchase, and most Americans use them. However, these cards can also charge fees that can add to any debt you carry. It’s worthwhile to acquaint yourself with these fees and work to avoid them so your balance doesn’t grow.

If you’re currently chipping away at a balance, you may want to consider taking out a personal loan to pay off your credit card. This can lower your rate of interest and make your debt less of a burden.

Looking to lower your monthly student loan payment? Refinancing may be one way to do it — by extending your loan term, getting a lower interest rate than what you currently have, or both. (Please note that refinancing federal loans makes them ineligible for federal forgiveness and protections. Also, lengthening your loan term may mean paying more in interest over the life of the loan.) SoFi student loan refinancing offers flexible terms that fit your budget.

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Non affiliation: SoFi isn’t affiliated with any of the companies highlighted in this article.

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.


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