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Saturday, November 28, 2015

How I Avoid Late Fees

Get Out of Late Fees!

No More Late Fees!
No More Late Fees!

So you have been hit by a late fee- what can you do to avoid paying it?  Surprisingly, you may be able to get out of a late fee with one phone call and about 5 minutes of work.

Back when I had satellite TV, my credit card I was using for autopay expired and I got hit with a $25 late fee.  I was able to avoid this late fee by calling in and simply asking for it to be removed.

Yes, it really can be as simple as just calling and asking for your late fee to be removed.  I was also able to call my credit card company and have a late fee removed just by asking.  The representative said that they will waive the first late fee you get if you call in and ask.  

You may feel that if your payment is received late that you did something wrong and deserve to pay a penalty.  I don't see it that way.  The cost of a delay of a few days in receiving a payment is almost too small to measure.  Late fees are pure profit for the companies that charge them, and I am happy to spend a bit of effort to avoid paying extra. 

Another strategy I have used to get out of late fees is to simply not pay the late fee.  My bank sends my bill for my safe deposit box late every year, and it has a $10 late fee added by the time I receive it.  I send in a payment only for the safe deposit box and leave off the late fee.  I sometimes add a short note that I received the bill after the deadline.  This has worked every time so far.

Sometimes you can ignore late fees and they will go away, but this strategy does not always work...

My Late Fee Battle With the Utility Company

Before I signed up for autopay a few years ago, the utility company once received my electric bill payment one day late and I was charged a $10 late fee on my next bill.  I though this was ridiculous.  The utility company had to wait one day for my $100 payment, so the $10 late fee on $100 for one day late is equivalent to paying 3650% annual interest rate to the utility company.

I thought this late fee was crazy and I simply did not pay it.  Every month, I payed for all of the electricity I used, but did not pay the $10 late fee.  About 9 months later, I got a call from the manager at the utility company.  I explained that I was not paying the late fee and that is why I had an unpaid balance of $10 every month.  I asked if the late fee could be removed  The manager explained that the entire balance must be paid.  

I continued paying only for the electricity and not the $10 late fee for a few more months, and then one day I found a pink letter taped to my front door.  It was a disconnect notice.  If I didn't pay my bill in full within 48 hours, my electricity would be disconnected and I would have to pay $150 to get it connected again after I payed my bill.

I gave up and decided to pay my late fee.  What else could I do?  In retrospect, I should have called the utility company right away to request having the late fee removed.  If talking on the phone didn't work, writing a letter would be my next step.  I would have had a better chance to have the late fee removed from my bill if I had contacted the billing party right away.

Dealing with a utility company is sort of a unique situation, because I had no options to cancel service or switch to a different utility company.  I had no leverage at all, so the utility company had no motivation to consider waiving the late fee.  Most companies you deal with on late fees will be more likely to be persuaded to remove the late fee if you request it.

How To Avoid Late Fees

Back in the bad old days, I paid my share of late fees.  I would sometimes lose track of my bills and end up paying a few days late.  Paying a bill late can result in a late fee of $40 or more, depending on the bill.  In the days before electronic bill payment options were available, I remember once paying nearly $20 to overnight a check to avoid a $35 late fee.

Of course, you can avoid late fees simply by paying bills on time.  I have put many of my bills on automatic payment, and I use electronic bill paying to pay my other bills, often the same day I receive my bill in the mail.  

When an occasional late fee mishap occurs, I have been able to avoid paying the late fee using the tactics I have described in this article. 

Here is a summary of tips on how to avoid paying late fees:
  • Use autopay to guarantee on-time payment and no late fees
  • Use electronic bill payer service from your bank to pay your non-autopay bills as they come in
  • If you do get a late fee, object right away and ask that the late fee be removed from your bill.  You can sometimes have a late fee removed just by asking.  It is worth a try!
  • If requesting a late fee be removed by phone doesn't work, try writing a letter.  The company may decide it is better to remove the late fee than deal with complaints and risk you moving on to a competitor.

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