Money Matters

Jim McCrane

As college students, our budgets are tight and we’re usually strapped for cash. We can barley pay our monthly cell phone bill, let alone the $10 fee that may come with it. However this fee, along with others, can be avoided. By paying close attention to what triggers some of these fees, we can escape them with little or no in conveniences.

I have found through discussions with fellow Villanova students that most of them are not aware of the fees associated with using an ATM card. For those who have a Wachovia account, there is no charge for using the card at the Wachovia ATMs here on campus.

Of course, not everyone uses Wachovia bank. Most banks (including Wachovia) charge at least $1 for using their cards to withdraw money from any other bank’s ATM. For those who use a bank besides Wachovia, they face two separate fees: one from their own banks plus a non-customer fee of at least another dollar from Wachovia (or another bank, if off campus) for using their ATM machines.

ATM fees can be largely avoided. Those students who use other banks, but need to obtain cash while on campus can go to Genuardi’s or another nearby supermarket and receive cash back for no charge when they pay for their groceries using their Debit/ATM card. Those who have no easy means off campus will probably have to accept the fees at some point. For these situations, I suggest that students withdraw as much money as safely possible so that they will not have to use the ATM machine frequently. Those students who have checking accounts may be able to write checks made out to themselves or to “cash” and then cash them for no fee at the on-campus Wachovia branch.

One caveat to this method is that the bank may refuse to cash checks for students who do not have an account. Since Wachovia offers fee-free checking, students who may need cash during the year can transfer some of their funds to a Wachovia account to avoid ATM fees while keeping an account at their banks back home.

Some fees should be avoided completely. Nobody should face a fee for paying bills late. Escaping that charge is as easy as ensuring payment is sent on time. On the other hand, companies make mistakes. Sometimes late fees are charged even when payment is received on time. In other instances companies will add charges to bills that the customer should not face. Such errors should be resolved immediately.

All bills must be analyzed carefully to ensure they are fair. Any suspicious fees should be questioned. Companies usually understand that they make mistakes and in most cases it should not be difficult to correct billing errors that are not in the customer’s best interest.

Other fees can be unfair. Over the past year, cell phone providers have been adding extra fees of a few dollars per month. Some companies use creative language to disguise these charges as required taxes, but usually they are simply passing on a cost to a customer by imposing a fee. Fortunately, keen customers have used such fees as a valid reason to break their contracts with a provider for no cancellation fee (a savings of $150 or more).

Those who truly are dissatisfied with their cell phone service and are under contract may want to investigate these fees, but they must act quickly if they notice a new fee. Usually a customer only has 30 days to break a contract without penalty after a new fee becomes assessed.

Villanova has a few questionable fees of its own. For example, the university charges $15 to replace a damaged Wildcard, even if the damage is the result of normal wear and tear (such as a worn out magnetic stripe). Unfortunately there is little recourse since Villanova maintains all control over the Wildcards, but dissatisfied students can let Villanova (or any company) know that they are unhappy with certain fees by writing. Sometimes such dissatisfaction will get noticed, to the point that companies rethink their policy for charging fees. I wrote an e-mail to Villanova’s Wildcard office regarding the fee for replacing a damaged Wildcard, and was told the fee can be waived if the damage was due to “normal wear and tear” in their judgment.

Students cannot escape most fees charged by the University because they simply have no recourse short of withdrawal from the school if they are dissatisfied, but they can make their voices heard just as they would if they were unhappy with fees charged by any company.

Some fees are a necessary evil, but students can avoid many of them. Those who manage to escape ATM fees on this campus can easily save enough money to pay for a textbook over the course of the school year. Avoiding extraneous charges requires knowledge of such fees, research of alternatives and action for those fees which may be unfair but are otherwise unavoidable.

The seemingly small fees can quickly add up to hundreds of dollars a year as we incur ever greater financial responsibilities if we are not careful.