It's easy to take for granted all the things you can enjoy at no cost. From products and services to entertainment, there's plenty of free stuff to be had in life if you know where to look.
Unfortunately, though, there are also many things we expect to be free that aren't. Shoppers often find their budgets busted due to additional charges on services, hidden costs and temporary freebies that turn into paid purchases. Here are seven things that should be free and how you can avoid paying for them.
Gone are the days when free checking was the norm. While nearly 80 percent of banks offered free checking accounts in 2009, just 46 percent provided them as of 2016, according to a survey by Moebs Services, as reported by the Chicago Tribune. Further, many supposedly free checking accounts actually come with strict requirements.
"Go to most banks, and you'll have to pay fees or jump through a bunch of hoops to avoid the extra charges," said David Bakke of personal finance website Money Crashers.
One of the more common requirements to avoid a monthly maintenance fee is meeting a minimum balance requirement. As part of its 2017 Best Banks survey, GOBankingRates evaluated 100 banks and determined that the average fee was $5. So, if your balance were to dip below the minimum every month, you'd pay $60 in fees over a year.
Fortunately, there are still banks that offer free checking with no minimum balance — such as Ally Bank, Bank5 Connect and Capital One. Credit unions and local banks also are more likely to offer free checking, Bakke said. So, if you're paying for your checking account, consider switching banks to get one that's free.
Luggage on Flights
It wasn't very long ago that air travelers could check a bag or two for free. In fact, American Airlines was the first major airline to introduce checked bag fees in 2008, according to FareCompare.com. Now, all major airlines except Southwest Airlines charge passengers for checked bags on domestic flights.
Airlines started charging this fee to compensate for high fuel costs, according to FareCompare. Even though fuel prices have dropped dramatically, checked bag fees remain. Additionally, major carriers such as American and United are now charging passengers extra to store carry-on bags in overhead bins, said Benjamin Glaser, an editor with DealNews.com.
"When booking flights, check to make sure what is and isn't included with your fare," Glaser said. "There might be a more expensive fare that includes carry-on or checked bags but is still cheaper than getting the base fare and adding whatever bags you need."
And there are ways to avoid these fees, such as flying on Southwest, which allows passengers two free checked bags. You might also be able to check bags for free if you have an airline branded credit card. For example, Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select cardholders can check one bag for free on domestic American Airlines flights.
These days, you'll likely have to pay extra for anything other than the bed you sleep in when you book a room at a hotel. It became common practice for hotels to tack on surcharges for amenities — and even some necessities — around 1997, according to New York University's Jonathan M. Tisch Center for Hospitality and Tourism. You can expect to pay extra for everything from telephone calls and internet access to early check-in and holding luggage until a room is ready.
One of the heftier surcharges is the resort fee. Unfortunately, many guests don't realize they'll be hit with this cost until they arrive at the hotel. In fact, the Federal Trade Commission found that consumers are harmed when hotels don't disclose mandatory resort fees as part of their room rates.
"A lot of times you'll book a hotel, and it will say resort fee not included," said Brett Graff, family finance expert and editor of TheHomeEconomist.com.
The best way to avoid paying more than the room rate is to check for additional fees on hotel websites when booking or call hotels directly to ask about additional charges. Not all resorts charge fees, Graff said. So, shop around for accommodations that won't make you pay extra for amenities.
Check Out: 50 Things Your Hotel Will Give You for Free
Shipping for Online Purchases
Shopping online is convenient. But, more and more consumers are having to pay extra for this convenience in the form of shipping fees.
"Free shipping is actually a costly expense for retailers," Glaser said. "So, many are cutting back on what has become expected by many online shoppers."
In other words, don't expect free shipping to be available at all times from all online retailers. Still, you might be able to avoid this cost if you time your purchases right or shop around.
"If you are ever about to make a purchase but can't get free shipping, check other sites that do have free shipping to see if you would pay less overall for the same item, even if it is technically more expensive," Glaser said. "Or, search for coupon codes for the site you're using. They might have an active free shipping promotion you weren't aware of."
"Converting coins to cash should be free," said Michael Srinivasan, owner of the personal finance blog StretchaDime.com. Unfortunately, it isn't always.
For example, if you dump your change into a Coinstar kiosk at a supermarket or other retailer, you'll have to pay a 10.9 percent fee. You can avoid giving up around 11 cents of every dollar you convert by opting for a gift card rather than cash, Srinivasan said. Choose an e-gift card from more than 20 stores and restaurants.
Additionally, some banks will convert coins to cash at no charge. If you're a BB&T customer, you can use its self-service machines to convert up to $25 worth of coins for free. There's a 5 percent charge on amounts more than $25.
A high cable bill can make that night of binge-watching your favorite shows far less enjoyable.
"With all the advertising you're forced to sit through, you'd think you'd be able to watch TV for free," said Chris Brantner, founder of CutCableToday.com. However, Americans spend $103 per month on cable on average, according to Leichtman Research Group.
However, it is possible to watch TV for much less — or even for free, Brantner said. If you want live programming, you can get many of the popular cable channels for $20 a month through a streaming service such as Sling TV. Or you can watch previously aired shows for free with Crackle. You can also watch local channels for free with an antenna.
"You just have to make sure you get the proper antenna for your location, and you'll be watching the NFL, 'Big Bang Theory' and more — all for nothing," said Brantner. "As for cable channels, no need for a huge monthly bill for a ton of channels you don't watch."
Free Trials and Subscriptions
You've likely seen offers to try out a service or product at no cost. However, Graff cautions that these deals can be misleading.
"Things that are free are great, and they're tempting. But they're not always real," she said.
If you sign up for a free trial, you could end up in a plan that charges you a regular fee if you don't opt out at the end of the trial, she said. The Federal Trade Commission recently charged a group of online marketers with luring customers in with free trials and then charging them for products without their consent by asking for their credit card information to cover shipping and handling costs.
Before signing up for free trials, the FTC recommends searching online for complaints about the companies in question. Read all of the terms of the offer and look for pre-checked boxes in the forms you fill out that might authorize the company to charge you for other services.
And mark your calendar for the end of the free trial, so you can cancel the service before you're hit with charges.
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