Who Hijacked Our Country

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

You're Getting Mugged by American Corporations

If it seems like all of those hidden fees and surcharges are nickel-and-diming you to death — they are. Every time you turn around it’s $5 for this banking transaction, $10 added to your phone and cable bills for God knows what.

These hidden fees cost Americans $45 billion dollars a year. That’s roughly the same as the amount lost to Identity Theft each year. Unlike ID theft, these hidden fees are perfectly legal. After all, our legislators and regulatory agencies are fully owned and operated by the industries they're supposedly “regulating.”

This $45 billion doesn’t include penalties or late fees; these are simply the hidden charges you automatically pay every time you purchase a product or use a service. These hidden fees cost the average American almost a thousand dollars a year. Ah heck, you weren’t planning to use that thousand for anything, were you?

These hidden surcharges also don't include anything "extra" like vacations. This article is only based on the mundane everyday things you do: making phone calls, going to the bank, watching TV, using the Internet, saving for your retirement, buying groceries, etc. If you're some sort of spendthrift who likes to take fancy vacations, you might be paying closer to $4,000 a year in hidden fees.

The author of this article says: “Sneaky fees peck away at us like a swarm of mosquitoes that ruin an otherwise beautiful summer evening. And like mosquitoes, an individual bite might seem trivial, barely more than a nuisance, but repeated bites can actually change the way you live. They chase you inside, make you build a screened porch, and in extreme cases make you sick.”

He uses the term “Gotcha Capitalism.” “Gotchas are everywhere you turn, now. They are a way of life for consumers. They are our economic system, one that has replaced our former system, the free market economy. Gotcha Capitalism — your personal finances, under siege. Mosquitoes might threaten your life with death by 1,000 bites; Gotcha Capitalism threatens your finances with death by a thousand fees.”

cross-posted at Bring It On!

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Anonymous rockync said...

As always, big business finds a way to pick your pocket and politicians make sure it's legal. Citizens don't really notice becuase they've done experiments so that they will know how much they can tap each person without arousing suspicion or ire. If ever a country's legal, govermental and commerce systems needed a major overhaul, America would top the list!

January 17, 2008 at 9:23 AM  
Blogger Tom Harper said...

Rockync: That's exactly it; they know exactly how much they can extort, how hard they can poke, without getting a rise out of anybody. Government and Big Business are so closely entertwined, it's hard to tell where one ends and the other begins.

January 17, 2008 at 9:28 AM  
Blogger anna said...

I think BB and da govamint are one in the same.

January 17, 2008 at 1:45 PM  
Blogger Tom Harper said...

Anna: Damn right.

January 17, 2008 at 3:18 PM  
Blogger Randal Graves said...

Hell, when we bought tickets to take our youngest to the ballet, lo and behold, a 'convenience' charge of nearly 7 bucks a ticket. If I knew for a fact that the extra 21 or so dollars I was spending was going to help fund the arts, I wouldn't complain, but it was merely going to line the pockets of some fucking corporate ticket distributor.

January 17, 2008 at 5:42 PM  
Blogger Tom Harper said...

Randal: Yup, that's a perfect example. When you pay taxes, at least theoretically the money is coming back to the public in terms of infrastructure, education, the arts, etc. But all these hidden fees and surcharges are doing is fattening up a few already-bloated corporate managers. It sucks.

January 17, 2008 at 5:53 PM  
Blogger Larry said...

Pay toilets are a thing of the past, as corporate nationalists have found bigger ways to rape the American consumer of every but they have.

January 17, 2008 at 6:09 PM  
Blogger Mile High Pixie said...

Aren't those fees the most insane?! I read somewhere that you can call and have some of those fees (from certain companies) taken off. Wish I could remember where I heard/saw that. At any rate, all it takes is someone to notice the fees to get them taken off...but only on a case-by-case basis.

If you don't notice it, then they'll get it.

January 17, 2008 at 6:51 PM  
Blogger Tom Harper said...

Larry: Ah yes, the pay toilet. Seems so quaint and innocent now. They've taken that concept and multiplied by a hundred, and it's less blatant. Very shrewd of them.

Mile High Pixie: True, I've heard about individual fees being eliminated by knowing who to call and making the call. But with dozens of those fees and surcharges, that's a lot of phone calls to make.

January 17, 2008 at 8:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not particularly surprised by this story. I went to a restaurant recently and when I used my bank card, I found out two days later that I was charged an extra $11 for using my card. The owner informed me that the bank charges the fee and I had to call the bank to get the fee taken off. Of course they wouldn't take it off.

But the sad reality is that these corporations work with these businesses and the government to rip regular John and Jane Doe off. No wonder why we gotta borrow all the time to save the economy.

January 17, 2008 at 9:45 PM  
Blogger Tom Harper said...

Anonymous: Thanks for your story; it sounds pretty typical. Every time you turn around there's another hidden fee for Gods knows what. And like you said, the government is in on this too. Regulatory agencies are working hand in glove with the industries they're supposed to be "regulating."

January 17, 2008 at 11:47 PM  
Blogger no_slappz said...

I do not believe the story from "anonymous".

There is no such thing as a hidden fee for "using" plastic.

He said he used his "bank card".

What's that? A debit card?

Is it a card that allows users to tap a credit line if they overdraw their bank accounts when using it?

If that's the case, then there's no doubt a fee will appear.

If the cost of convenience is more than you care to pay, use cash, write checks or get plastic that comes without fees. It exists.

January 20, 2008 at 7:22 PM  
Blogger Tom Harper said...

I've heard and read plenty of stories exactly like "Anonymous" was saying. I use mostly cash myself and I don't have a cell phone or too many other electronic gizmos, so I don't get too many of these hidden fees. But they're a very real problem and they mostly affect people who are barely making it.

The article linked in the post has tons of comments at the end, people's first-hand stories of these hidden fees and surcharges.

January 20, 2008 at 7:28 PM  
Blogger Jen Clark said...

I opened an IRA at Wells Fargo. I don't know why. I honestly don't want my retirement to be dependent on the stock market. But, my dad made me. I only put $4,000 in there and I'm treating it like money I'm just never going to see again.

But, that doesn't mean I don't want it. The interest on that money got me a little over $170 this year, and I just got this bill (that looks nothing like any other bill I've ever seen. It's printed horizontally on a 8x11 piece of paper and looks like junk mail) and it told me that I owe Wells Fargo $40 to "maintenance" the account.

What maintenance? It's not like a hotel room that needs to be cleaned. It just sits there. The bank does nothing - and is collecting $40 to do so.

This sneaky bill said that I can either pay it or they will take it out of my fund. I couldn't believe they had the right to do this. I sure as shit never signed anything authorizing that charge.

But I'm not going to bother calling because I know that the rules are written in their favor.

That said, if anyone knows of a bank that isn't going to steal $40 from me each year because I'm keeping my tiny IRA in their bank, please let me know.

I seriously think it might be better off under my mattress.

January 20, 2008 at 11:17 PM  
Blogger Tom Harper said...

Jen: That sounds about right. According to the linked article, retirement accounts are some of the biggest culprits for hidden fees. I think the author said that for people who open a 401(k) at a young age, they can lose up to 80% of their savings in various hidden surcharges.

That's "free enterprise"? I don't think so. Free enterprise would be when a merchant says up front what the fees and costs will be, and the customer can either accept or decline the offer. It hasn't worked that way in a long time.

January 20, 2008 at 11:43 PM  
Blogger Jen Clark said...

Did the article give any suggestions as to what we're supposed to do then? With Wells Fargo taking such a big cut from my interest, I almost just want that money in a CD or something. My dad keeps saying that these IRA things are the best, but when the bank steals the money that is supposed to be compounding, it can't possibly be as good as he says. I'd rather have that $4,000 in my pocket.

January 21, 2008 at 10:52 AM  
Blogger Tom Harper said...

Jen: This article was linked to the original one; it's supposed to help people get out of some of these hidden charges. I just kind of glimpsed at it, but mostly they just say to read the fine print ahead of time, etc.

You could also complain to Wells Fargo. If you talk to the right person at the bank (whoever that is) they might come up with a different arrangement. No guarantees, but sometimes that works. Good luck.

January 21, 2008 at 11:18 AM  
Blogger Jen Clark said...

Thanks. I really want to go back to being a kid again (who doesn't, right?)

January 21, 2008 at 11:25 AM  

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