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Avoiding Those Annoying Hidden Fees

What do Americans say irks them most in their day-to-day lives?

According to a recent Consumer Reports survey, it's - hidden fees, in all sorts of bills.

Which begs the question: How can you avoid paying them?

"Early Show" consumer correspondent Susan Koeppen offered some advice.

Those fees, she says, add up to billions - with a "B" - billions of dollars each year. And it's across the board -- from fees on our cell phones, to new cars, to staying in a hotel rooms.

For instance, an NYU professor who tracks the hotel industry estimates that we spent $1.5 billion in fees and surcharges at hotels last year alone. Among the fees: ones for mini-bars: Some hotels not only charge you $8 dollars for a soda, but they charge you to replace the item in the mini-bar -- anywhere from $2 to $6. Also: room service: Many hotels add a fee for bringing the food to your door; they already add in the tip -- if you don't notice that, you may tip the delivery person twice. Then there are the fees some high-end resorts hit you up for: Some charge $25 a day, just to stay there. That can even be per person, not just per room.

Another example: cable TV bills: Koeppen noticed a $2 fee that said cancellation fee. So, she called and asked about it, and was told it was a fee they were charging her because she'd cancelled one of her movie channels. They said it was a new fee. So she said, "Cancel the cancellation fee." And they did. They took it off the bill.

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HOW CONSUMERS CAN PROTECT THEMSELVES

Read your bill closely: Every month. And that means every bill. Koeppen's water bill had a new, $5 "warrantee fee." She hadn't signed up for any warrantees. So, she's going to call to find out what that's about before paying it.

Call and complain: You need to take the time to find out why you're being charged a fee. And don't be afraid to ask for the fee to be removed. In fact: Demand it.

Reconsider auto-pay: A lot of people have their bills paid automatically each month. The funds are taken from their checking accounts. When it's that easy, consumers don't always pay as close attention to what they're paying and why. And, once the money is gone, and you don't notice it until that point, you have to fight to get that money back.

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