1. Activation fee
Whether you’re purchasing a brand new service at your existing home or moving, but hoping to take your cable package with you, be prepared to be charged an activation fee. Also, if you don't get all your services at once, you may be charged an activation fee each time you activate a new service.
Tips to avoid paying: Since it’s nearly impossible to determine just what this fee covers (it isn't for installation, and it isn't for technical service), the best way to fight the fee is to threaten to cancel your service and go to a competitor. Unfortunately you may be charged a cancellation fee for doing so, but often if you can speak to a customer service manager, you can get the fee waived in return for keeping the service.
2. Installation fee
The installation fee is assessed when a technician is dispatched to your location to activate your cable services. Unless you’re moving into a brand new building that has never before had cable service, most installation kits are fairly turnkey and you should be able to waive the installation fee and do it yourself. If you need a complicated gadget or have problematic wiring, you may not be able to avoid paying the installation fee.
Tips to avoid paying: Find out all the details before agreeing to let a technician come to your location. If a technician shows up unscheduled, don’t accept the visit (you’ll be charged if you do). Short of extreme technical difficulties, often a tech-savvy friend (especially one who uses the same cable service you do) can provide the same assistance for free.
3. Service-call fee
Gone are the days of courtesy service calls. Today, if someone from the cable company even breathes in your direction, you’ll likely be billed for it.
Tips to avoid paying: Before booking a service call, find out exactly how much it will cost and write down who you spoke with, what the date was and exactly what you discussed. Also ask that your customer service agent make notes in your account record. Also, if the reason for the service call is because the cable equipment provided to you isn’t working the way it should, you should pay nothing for a technician to come out, and you certainly shouldn't pay for new equipment!
4. Cancellation fee
Competition between cable providers is so fierce today that waiving the cancellation fee has become a big draw for attracting new customers away from competitors. However, this doesn't mean cable providers won't still readily charge you a cancellation fee in hopes you won’t protest it.
Tips to avoid paying: If you decide to cancel, find out all the details before executing the order. If there’s a cancellation fee, place your order on hold and contact the new provider to let them know you can’t transfer your service unless they can reimburse you for the cancellation fee. You never know what’s possible unless you ask!
5. Downgrade/upgrade-service fee
You may think it’s free to change your services as long as you keep your existing cable provider—but not anymore. One of the biggest new "hidden" fees comes when cable providers charge existing customers who want to modify their service plan. If you disconnect a service at your existing location and later want to reconnect that same service at the same location, you’ll likely be charged a fee for that too.
Tips to avoid paying: Before altering your plan in any way, inquire whether you’ll be charged for the privilege. You can then fight any charges, citing customer loyalty and attractive offers from competitors as an incentive for your current provider to waive those charges.
6. Equipment-purchase/rental fee
Typically, cable providers will tack on an extra one-time or monthly fee to use their equipment. If you’re ordering Internet and cable, you’ll be charged separately for both pieces. If you have more than a preset number of televisions (typically, the magic number is three) you may be charged an extra flat rental fee for each additional cable box.
Tips to avoid paying: This is a tough one to crack. Where you do have automatic wiggle room is with the extra devices charges—so be sure to negotiate on those. Ask about bundles and packages to see if you can reduce the fee. Also find out if it’s cheaper to rent or purchase the equipment and ask if you must use that provider's equipment (you may be able to find a better deal elsewhere or purchase used equipment from a third party). Finally, be sure to ask what protection you have if the equipment malfunctions or fails, especially if you opt to use your own equipment.
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