JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Every year many are overcharged for services without even knowing it. One recent estimate shows Americans pay over $216 billion - about $750 per person - in avoidable fees every year.
Can you avoid being overcharged? Here are 10 places to look for those hidden fees in repairs and services.
Number 10: Auto insurance
If you're paying for auto insurance for a child who is in college, let your insurer know. You may qualify for a discount if your student maintains a "B" average or above. The carrier may also reduce your rate if your child is leaving the car behind and studying out of town.
Number 9: The mortgage broker
These are independent contractors who are free to charge whatever they wish for their services. To avoid being overcharged by a mortgage broker, shop multiple sources or hire a mortgage broker to shop for you, charging a specific fee in advance.
Number 8: Legal Fees
Some lawyers inflate their bills through "aggressive billing," such as "rounding up." To avoid this overcharge:
- Get a written summary of hourly rates charged by any employee of the firm
- Inform them that you will not pay minimum time increments
- Keep a log of the dates and precise time of all interactions with your lawyer
Number 7: Home Repair
The Federal Trade Commission calls this a common consumer complaint. To protect yourself, get several estimates. Check references and licenses, and resist dealing with any contractor who asks you to pay for the entire job upfront. Get in writing the terms for a price change. Don't be reluctant to ask for copies of receipts of purchased materials.
Number 6: Computer Repair
Don't pay inflated prices for parts. To protect yourself when you're quoted a price, get the model number, then shop and compare. Also do not download or use a program that has the word registry in its name or that promises to clean up your computer's registry. This can lead to costly repairs.
Number 5: Your Automotive
The service adviser is quick to offer a complete inspection. If you say yes, you've agreed to pay them to find work. If you don't need the inspection, refuse the service and save that expense.
Number 4: Early Brake Jobs
Do you really need a brake job before its time? Don't panic and pay for unnecessary repairs. Wait until it is 15-20 percent before replacing your brake pads.
Number 3: Windshield wipers
Most people do not remember the last time they changed their windshield wipers. But replacing them is simple and a new pair should cost no more than $40. If the bill to replace your wipers is $60 or more, you have been overcharged.
Number 2: Plumbing service
Don't be overcharged by your plumber. Get a quote on the hourly rate and mark up for materials. Also if they're using an apprentice or a laborer, you don't want to pay the rate for a licensed professional.
Number 1: Don't be overcharged in the store because of a scanner mix up.
To protect yourself, read sale signs carefully; compare the advertised price with the shelf price. In other words know what you expect to pay before checkout. During checkout watch the transaction and read your receipts. If you think you were overcharged, ask to speak to someone who can explain the charges.