Sign up for our FREE Monthly Email Newsletter
In addition to keeping in the financial know, you may be interested in checking your credit score and report.
¹The credit scores provided under the offers described here use the Equifax Credit Score, which is a proprietary credit model developed by Equifax. The Equifax Credit Score and 3-Bureau scores are each based on the Equifax Credit Score model, but calculated using the information in your Equifax, Experian and TransUnion credit files. The Equifax Credit Score is intended for your own educational use. It is also commercially available to third parties along with numerous other credit scores and models in the marketplace. Please keep in mind third parties are likely to use a different score when evaluating your creditworthiness. Also, third parties will take into consideration items other than your credit score or information found in your credit file, such as your income.
²The Automatic Fraud Alert feature is made available to consumers by Equifax Information Services LLC and fulfilled on its behalf by Equifax Consumer Services LLC.
³Equifax Credit Report Control™ is only available while you have a current subscription to Equifax Complete Premier. Locking your credit file with Equifax Credit Report Control will prevent access to your Equifax credit file by certain third parties, such as credit grantors or other companies and agencies. Credit Report Control will not prevent access to your credit file at any other credit reporting agency, and will not prevent access to your Equifax credit file by companies like Equifax Personal Solutions which provide you with access to your credit report or credit score or monitor your credit file; Federal, state and local government agencies; companies reviewing your application for employment; companies that have a current account or relationship with you, and collection agencies acting on behalf of those whom you owe; for fraud detection and prevention purposes; and companies that wish to make pre-approved offers of credit or insurance to you. To opt out of such pre-approved offers, visit www.optoutprescreen.com/.
4We will require you to provide your payment information when you sign up and we will immediately charge your card $4.95. After that, we will charge the card $19.95 for each month you continue your subscription. You may cancel at any time; however, we do not provide partial month refunds.
Equifax® is a registered trademark and Equifax Complete™ Premier is a trademark of Equifax, Inc. © 2014, Equifax Inc., Atlanta, Georgia. All rights reserved.
You may already know to be on the lookout for fraudulent charges when your monthly credit card and debit card statements arrive in the mail. However, you may also want to scan your statement for hidden credit and debit card charges to which you’ve unknowingly agreed.
Deceptive credit and debit card charges that pile up as a result of misleading sales and billing practices—dubbed “grey charges” by personal finance security company BillGuard—cost American credit and debit cardholders $14.3 billion in 2012, according to a recent report by BillGuard and research firm Aite Group.
According to Aite Group estimates, there are about 233 million grey charges on U.S. credit and debit cards each year. Approximately three in 1,000 charges are grey charges, and the average grey charge rings in at $61.
Among the BillGuard customers surveyed with at least one grey charge, about one-third paid between $100 and $500 in grey charges in 2012 alone, and almost one in 10 paid more than $500.
“If consumers avoid hidden charges, over time they can save themselves hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars,” says Howard Dvorkin, founder of Consolidated Credit Counseling Services.
What are common hidden credit and debit card charges?
1. Free-to-paid charges. Many consumers find themselves dishing out dollars for what are known as free-to-paid charges. These are some of the most prevalent types of hidden credit card charges, according to the BillGuard and Aite Group report. Consumers get hit with free-to-paid charges when they initially receive a product for free or a nominal fee during a trial period and then are automatically charged a fee unless the service is cancelled or the product returned.
2. Phantom charges. Phantom charges can creep up on credit and debit card statements when a consumer makes a purchase and, as an added bonus, receives another product or service that is believed to be a free gift. Sometimes the additional offer comes from a third-party seller—not the business offering the initial product—and the additional product or service isn’t actually free.
3. Service and luxury charges. These charges often come with having a bank account, opening a special type of card, or processing a particular request, and they are often tacked onto luxury items.
4. Zombie charges. Zombie charges sneak up on consumers who have canceled a subscription service—such as an item of the month club—yet still get charged for it over and over again.
5. Unintended subscription. Consumers may encounter unwanted subscription charges if they make a one-time transaction that automatically turns into an ongoing subscription.
What can I do to avoid hidden credit and debit card charges?
Aite Group estimates that credit and debit cardholders could save almost $7 billion of the approximately $14.3 billion in grey charges annually by monitoring and tracking hidden charges. As you swipe your credit or debit card to make purchases and receive your monthly statements, consider these seven tips:
1. Carefully read all agreements, terms, disclosures, and conditions in full so you know exactly for what you are signing up or purchasing.
2. Think twice before disclosing your contact and personal information for free promotions.
3. If you sign up for a free trial, mark your calendar or set a reminder on your phone or computer so you can cancel the product or service before you are charged.
4. Pick one credit card to use when signing up for new services. This will make it easier to monitor all charges.
5. Review your monthly statements to confirm all credit and debit card transactions.
6. If you do spot an unauthorized charge on your statement, dispute it immediately with your credit card company or bank. You can also dispute the charge with the company that is imposing it. When a card issuer is investigating a dispute, it can’t report your account as delinquent as long as you have paid the undisputed charges or the minimum amount due.
7. If hidden credit card charges continue to pop up, ask your credit card company or bank to close the affected account and issue a new one.
Hidden charges are often described using confusing language and can be difficult to pick out in lengthy terms of service agreements. Unfortunately, in most cases they are neither fraudulent nor illegal, and they may be costing you extra money without your knowledge.
By regularly scanning your monthly statements and thoroughly reading any service agreements before signing, however, you may be able to prevent these charges—and save yourself some money as a result.
Ilyce Glink is the author of ten books, including the bestselling 100 Questions Every First-Time Home Buyer Should Ask. Her nationally syndicated column, “Real Estate Matters,” appears in more than 125 newspapers and Websites, and her online “Ask Ilyce” columns are read by hundreds of thousands of people every month. She is a top-rated radio host on WSB Radio in Atlanta, the Home Equity blogger at CBS MoneyWatch.com, host of the Internet program “Expert Real Estate Tips,” managing editor of the Equifax Personal Finance Blog, and publisher of ThinkGlink.com.
The information contained in this blog post is designed to generally educate and inform visitors to the Equifax Finance Blog. The blog posts do not give, and should not be assumed to provide, personalized tax, investment, real estate, legal, retirement, credit, personal financial, or other professional advice. Before making any financial decision, you should always consult with the appropriate professionals who can explain your options, rights, and legal responsibilities, and advise you on any tax, legal, credit, or business implications that may result from those decisions. The views and opinions expressed by the authors of blog posts are their own views and may not be the views or opinions of Equifax, Inc. and/or its affiliates.
Equifax maintains this interactive forum for education and information purposes in order to allow individuals to share their relevant knowledge and opinions with other members and visitors. We encourage you to participate in discussions about personal finance issues and other topics of interest to this community, but please read our commenting guidelines first. Equifax reserves the right to monitor postings to the forum and comments will be published at our discretion. Do you have questions or comments about your Equifax credit report or customer-service issues regarding an Equifax product? If so, please contact Equifax directly. All opinions and information expressed or shared in blog comments are solely those of the person submitting the comments, and don't necessarily represent the views of Equifax or its management.