How to beat credit card fees

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Your credit card will nickel-and-dime you to death — unless you do this

A typical credit card can have an annual fee, a cash advance fee, a foreign transaction fee, a balance transfer fee, and a late payment fee. Fortunately, many credit card users go years without incurring any of these fees. How do they do it? The key is to select low-fee cards, then use your leverage as a customer to request waivers from the fees you do incur…

Annual fees

There are two simple, proven ways to avoid annual credit card fees. The first is the easiest: Just choose from one of the many cards that don’t have annual fees. While thre’s no shortage, the best rewards programs tend to charge annual fees. If you do the math and figure you’ll save more than you’ll spend, look for rewards cards that come with the first year’s fee waived. There are a quite a few.

The other way to avoid annual fees almost sounds to easy to be true: Call the card issuer and ask to have it waived. You should calmly mention you’re considering canceling the card. Immediately, you’ll be  transferred to the “Retentions Department.” In return for your commitment to renew the card, these representatives are empowered to waive annual fees or offer rewards that are at least as valuable. Best no-fee rewards card: The new American Express EveryDay card offers points in its Membership Rewards program that can be transferred to miles with 17 different airline programs.

Late fees

The easiest way to avoid late fees is, no duh, to always pay your bill on time. But since everyone makes mistakes, you can get late fees waived just like annual fees. While a few cards don’t charge late fees, most do. So simply call your card issuer and request to waive them. Nearly all card issuers will do this as a one-time courtesy to customers who are otherwise in good standing. But it probably won’t work twice. Best card to avoid late fees: The PenFed Promise card has no late fees — or any fees at all.

Foreign transaction fees

Most credit cards impose a 3 percent foreign transaction fee on all charges processed outside of the United States. Thankfully, many cards today don’t have this stupid fee. Choosing one of these cards is the best way to consistently avoid this fee, but there are reports of card issuers waiving it on request. The best card for travelers: The BankAmerica Travel Rewards card is one of the only cards available that has no annual fee or foreign transaction fee and includes an EMV smart chip for compatibility outside the United States.

Balance transfer fees

Credit cards with promotional financing offers are a fantastic way to avoid interest charges, but nearly all will add a 3 percent transfer fee to the amount transferred. The other way to avoid this fee: Get a card with promotional financing on new purchases before going into debt. This way, you can still enjoy interest-free financing without having to transfer a balance in the first place. Best balance transfer offer: Currently, the Chase Slate is the only card on the market with a zero-percent APR balance transfer offer and no fee.

Cash advance fees

While a select few cards (such as the PenFed Promise) don’t have a cash advance fee, you should always avoid using your credit card at an ATM. In addition to cash advance fees, transactions at ATMs will immediately starting incurring interest — and will likely charge a higher interest rate. The least expensive way to access cash at home and abroad will always be to use your bank’s debit card. Best card to avoid late fees: While it is best to avoid cash advances altogether, the PenFed Promise card has no cash advance fees, or any other fees of any kind.

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Meet the Author

Jason Steele

Jason Steele


Steele is a freelance writer for and is an expert on credit cards.

Credit & Debt

credit card reviews, credit cards

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