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Credit Cards

Hidden Credit-Card Fees

Nickel-and-dime charges can really add up. Here's how to avoid them.

If you think you have a no-fee credit card, think again. Even if your card doesn't levy an annual fee, the sponsor has probably loaded it with nickel-and-dime charges that can really add up. According to RK Hammer, a bank-card advisory firm, card issuers took in $13 billion in fees last year, not counting $12 billion in late fees. (Check out the best credit card deals.)

But there are some steps you can take to minimize nuisance fees. For example, never use your credit card to obtain a cash advance from an ATM. Card companies treat cash advances as loans. That means you'll pay a 3% fee on the amount you withdraw, with a $5 minimum, plus interest will start to accrue immediately. Interest rates on cash advances start at about 8% and may go as high as 24%.

Filling in so-called convenience checks, which are often included along with appealing low-rate balance-transfer offers, is strictly a no-no. Again, issuers treat these checks as cash advances, and you may incur a 3% fee, with a $5 to $10 minimum. Plus, you not only incur a fee when you use the check, but card issuers impose an average fee of $31 if the check is returned and a $26 fee if you stop payment on it. Likewise, using your credit card to buy a lottery ticket or a money order is considered a cash advance.

Swipe your card abroad and you are likely to find a 3% foreign-transaction fee on your statement -- 1% charged by Visa or MasterCard, and 2% by your credit-card issuer. Capital One is the only major issuer that doesn't impose a foreign-transaction fee. Some cards issued by credit unions pass on only the 1% fee imposed by Visa and MasterCard.

Paying your bill by phone just once could cost you $5 to $15. Need a duplicate copy of a statement? You might pay as much as $13. Lose your card and need a replacement in a hurry? Be ready to ante up $20.

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