The saying goes “what you don’t know can’t hurt you,” but I’d argue that what you don’t know almost certainly can hurt you, or at the very least, your bank account.
Sure, there’s something to be said for “ignorance is bliss,” but some things are worth looking into – and by “things” I mean any electricity company’s terms of service.
Hidden fees are nothing new. They’re tucked away deep within the headache-inducing lines of legal jargon, left unnoticed until a bill swings along with a higher number than we recognize. It’s frustrating, but electricity companies aren’t the only companies culpable for this.
In fact, a bill called the 2009 Credit CARD Act was implemented to curb the tactics used by credit card companies to slap hidden fees onto unsuspecting customers. But – you guessed it – it wasn’t long before they found sneaky new ways to penalize our wallets. Hotels, airlines, and electricity companies are no different.
It’s not ideal, but it’s the reality. So while this article won’t tell you the secrets of getting around paying hidden fees, it will equip you with all the information you need to avoid obtaining these unexpected charges to begin with.
What Are Hidden Fees?
In short, hidden fees are the sneaky, unexpected fees tucked away in a company’s terms of service. While the fees aren’t technically “hidden” (they’re spelled out clearly in the terms of service, if you take the time to comb through it), they are difficult to find and easily overlooked. And yes, the companies know this.
It’s common knowledge that most people don’t thoroughly read through the terms of service, and if enough people sign on the dotted line without realizing what it is that they’re signing, well, odds are their minor oversight will cost them a pretty penny.
What Are the Most Common Hidden Fees?
For the record, not all companies are created equal – some have more hidden fees, and some have less. And then there are the fees that just about every company has, the ones you can’t escape (and therefore, the ones you shouldn’t ignore).
Here’s the breakdown of these fees:
|Most Common Hidden Fees|
|Late Payment||This charge is for late payments or past due balances. For most companies, the additional charge is 5% of the past due balance.|
|Insufficient funds||If you have a low account balance, beware. An insufficient funds fee is an additional $25-$40 fee that a company charges if you have insufficient funds in your account and a payment is rejected.|
|Disconnect Notice Fee||You’ve missed a few payments, and now the company is warning you that your electricity might get disconnected. Well, don’t let them notify you too many times, because most companies charge anywhere from $10-$30 per disconnection notice they send you.|
|Reconnection Fee||Has your power been disconnected and now you need to have it reconnected? For most companies, be prepared to pay anywhere from $20-$50 to have your electricity back up and running.|
|Early Termination Fee||In case you’re looking to get out of your electricity contract early, beware. Companies may charge you anywhere from $150 – $395, depending on the length of your contract.|
Early Termination Fees
There is one very common, important fee that is included in the list above, and that’s the Early Termination Fee. Early termination, or early cancellation fees, are fees charged if you decide to end your contract prematurely.
These fees can be steep, ranging anywhere from $150-$395, depending on the length of your contract. While many companies are more upfront about these fees (companies don’t shy away from writing blog posts about it), they’re still somewhat elusive.
A lot of contracts don’t tell you exactly how much they’ll charge, instead they’ll direct you to the EFL, or Electricity Facts Label. This is by far the most expensive fee, so exercise due diligence to find out from your provider how much it will cost you if you decide to terminate your contract early.
Fees Most Likely to Catch You By Surprise
If you thought those hidden fees in the previous section were sneaky, you’re in for a treat. Here are some of the most unexpected hidden fees to keep an eye out for when linking arms with a new electricity company.
|Fees Most Likely to Catch You by Surprise|
|Payment via Live Agent Fee||If you’re looking to pay your electricity bill over the phone, you might be subject to a fee that can cost anywhere from $3.95 to $6.99.|
|Request Billing History Fee||If you’d like to get a copy of your billing history, you might be looking at an additional fee. The companies that charge this may bill you anywhere from $5 to $25.|
|Autopay Opt-Out Fee||If you decide to pay your electricity bill through any other method besides the approved auto-pay method, you could be charged up to $5.95 per payment.|
|Duplicate Bills, Documents Fee||In need of a copy of a bill or a document? You may be billed extra. These fees cost anywhere between $2 and $10.|
|Inactivity Fee||Does your meter read zero usage for the month? Thought you’re saving money? Not so fast – you might be charged up to $9.95 for inactivity.|
|Collection Calls Fee||If an electricity company calls you to collect a payment, you might be charged up to $5 per call.|
|Customer Care Calls Fee||We usually think that a customer care call is complementary, but some companies charge a fee for this service. These fees are generally $5.|
Companies With the Most Hidden Fees
Despite the valiant attempt to keep hidden fees hidden, we went through 50 companies’ terms of service to determine who has the most hidden fees. Listed below are the four companies with the most hidden fees. If you take up business with them, well, just be sure to read the fine print.
|Companies With the Most Hidden Fees|
|Fees||Number of Hidden Fees|
|4Change Energy||16 hidden fees|
|Express Energy||15 hidden fees|
|Veteran Energy||15 hidden fees|
|Nec C0-Op Energy||10 hidden fees|
Companies With the Least Hidden Fees
Unlike the companies listed above, below are the companies with the least hidden fees.
|Companies With the Most Hidden Fees|
|Tomorrow Energy Corp||1 hidden fee|
|Stream Energy||2 hidden fees|
|Rhythm Energy||2 hidden fees|
|Champion Energy||2 hidden fees|
Number of Hidden Fees per Company
Below is a chart that outlines how many hiddens fees each electricity company has. Please keep in mind that the early termination fee is not included in these numbers.
Cost Range of Hidden Fees
|Cost Range of Hidden Fees|
|Late Payment||5% of last bill|
|Insufficient Funds||$25 - $40|
|Disconnect Notice Fee||$5 - $30|
|Disconnect Fee||$20 - $50|
|Reconnection Fee||$20 - $50|
|Bill Summary Fee||$2.75 - $7|
|Collections Recovery Fee||$10 - $75|
|eBill Payment Assistance Fee||$4 - $4.75|
|Client Agent Account Assistance Fee||$4 - $4.95|
|Customer Care Calls Fee||$5|
|Collection Calls Fee (per call)||$3 - $5|
|Payment Via Live Agent Fee||$3.95 - $6.99|
|Mailing Additional Paperwork Fee||$5 - $20|
|Payment Convenience Fee (CC payments)||$2.50 - $25|
|Request Billing History||$5 - $25|
|Electronic Check Payments||$1.50|
|Manual Payment Fee||$1.50 - $5|
|Document Processing Fee||$2 - $4.95|
|Autopay Opt-Out Fee||$3 - $5.95|
|Duplicate Bills/Document Fees||$2 - $9.95|
|e-Docs Breakage Fee||$19.95|
|Serial Payment Fee||$4.95|
|Move-Out Date Change Fee||$9.95|
|Priority Connect Fee||$9.95|
|Renewable Energy Selection Fee||$19.95|
|Drop to Affiliated CR Notice Fee||$25|
|Move In Fee||$15|
|Payment Processing Fee||$4.95|
|Excess Payment Fee||$15|
Total Sum of Hidden Fees per Company
Below is a chart outline the total sum of all hidden fees for each electricity company. Please note that these totals do not include the 5% late fee, as that will vary depending on how much the overdue bill is. The early termination fee is also excluded from these totals.
Tips for Navigating Hidden Fees
There are no hard-and-fast rules for navigating hidden fees, but here are a few tips to ensure you’re not caught off guard when your monthly bill swings around.
1. Read the Terms of Service Thoroughly
At this point, there’s no getting around it. Reading through the terms of service is the best thing you can do to avoid getting hit with hidden fees. It’s a headache and the text is a pain to read, but it’s the best way to avoid an unwelcome surprise.
2. Use “Command + F”
“Command + F” is every contract reader’s best friend. In other words, this shortcut is the key to finding hidden fees without straining your eyes – or getting frustrated.
“Command + F” provides a search box for any online text. Search “fee” or “fees” and your computer should highlight that text, revealing the sections where additional fees are hidden.
3. Check Out Reviews
If there’s something you should know about, odds are you’ll find out about it by reading customer reviews. The Better Business Bureau is one place to start when it comes to finding customer feedback, but there’s no shortage of customer reviews online.
4. Write It All Down
Let’s face it, we’re human, we forget things. Unless you’re set on making flashcards about your electricity company's hidden fees, the best way to remember them is to write them down. This way, you won’t risk losing track of them amidst all the other important things you have to remember on a daily basis.
Electric Company Hidden Fees
Below is a chart containing all the hidden fees for each electric company. Scroll over each dot to find the hidden fee you’re looking for.
Click on the dot to see what companies have that hidden fee, and how much they charge. Click the arrow in the upper right corner to return to the chart.