How to Watch Out for Hidden Credit Card Fees

4 Things to Look Out for on a New Credit Card to Avoid "Hidden" Fees

businessman using credit card and digital tablet at office.
Tomas Rodriguez/arabianEye/Getty Images

Credit card promotions that offer low interest rates can be quite tempting, but unless you read the fine print, you could be hit by hidden fees or unexpected rate increases. There are a few things to look out for when examining your credit card or when applying for a new card. Here are the three top considerations when avoiding hidden credit card fees.

1. Teaser Rates

One of the biggest culprits of hidden credit card costs come in the form of teaser rates, which are rates generally offered as introductory interest rates on a new credit card.

You probably already receive these offers in the mail all the time trying to lure you in with an extremely low, or even a 0% introductory interest rate. While these appear to be good deals, these rates never last. Typically the teaser rate will only last a few months or on rare occasions up to a year.

Before signing up for any card with a low rate, read the fine print to find out what the standard rate will be once the teaser rate period is up. These offers almost never clearly promote the standard rate, and they do so purposefully, so you’ll probably have to look through the full terms to find out.

2. Balance Transfer Fees

Another tactic that credit card companies use is to offer a very low or 0% rate on balance transfers. This can certainly be a good thing to do if you’re stuck with a balance on another card with high interest, but you still need to be careful. While the credit card company may not charge interest on the transfer, it with another costly catch like a balance transfer fee that could be upwards of 3% of the balance you transfer, a time limit on the low rate, and possibly even another higher rate on new charges.

If you can pay off the balance before the rates adjust and don’t make any new purchases, this can be a good idea, but if not, the low-interest balance transfer may not be the best deal around.

3. Late Fees and Rate Increases

It goes without saying that it is extremely important to always make your monthly payments on time, but you should still find out the specific terms of the credit card agreement.

One missed payment can cost as much as a $39 late fee, and your interest rate may skyrocket to over 30%. Not only does that hurt financially, but it can damage your credit score and make future loans harder to obtain and most costly.

One hidden cost that is largely out of your control is an interest rate increase that happens across the board. Depending on the interest rate and lending markets, banks may occasionally increase their standard interest rates with little or no warning. One thing you can do is to give your credit card company a call and ask for a lower interest rate. You may be surprised to find that if you have a good payment history, you may very well be offered a lower rate.

4. Annual Membership Fees

Last, but not least, there are membership fees to look out for. While sometimes your only credit card options will come with annual fees, such as when you have little to no credit history for the company to assess, annual fees can be costly. Be sure to check if there is an annual fee on the card you are considering. Cards that offer special membership perks like travel rewards or cash back might cover some of the cost of those features with an annual fee. You might run some quick calculations and decide that the perks still outweigh the cost of the annual fee, but there are enough credit cards out there with no fees that might be worth considering first.