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Consumers in the Crosshairs

The fees are insidious, in part because they're so small. A buck here, $3 there; it barely seems worth breaking a sweat over. But these additional charges are like invasive weeds. Between your telecom and cable bills, you may be coughing up an extra $10 a month for special charges. Then there's the cash you lay out when you rent a car or check out of a hotel — well above the advertised price. And the $20 you pay your bank each month to get your canceled checks back and use the ATMs nearest you. It can add up fast.

The problem is "unbundling": Companies now break down prices to charge separately for things that were once essential parts of a product. That boosts the real price and raises the outrage factor right along with it: You're being forced to shell out for "extras" that are actually indistinguishable from the product you're already paying for; things you've gotten for free for years. No wonder you're annoyed.

You can avoid these fees — but you'll have to be a smart spender. Read on to learn what's driving the fee economy, which sneaky bank tricks you should watch for, and how to fight the fees we hate most. Your wallet will be fatter for your efforts.

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