Thursday, February 21, 2008

Gotcha Capitalism by Bob Sullivan

iconiconPlease scroll to the bottom of the post for several updates.

I heard about Bob Sullivan's Gotcha Capitalism on NPR. Although I didn't listen to the story, I was intrigued by the short description of the book, so I found it at the library and checked it out.

Even if you don't read much nonfiction or financial books, Gotcha Capitalism is well worth your time. It exposes many of the sneaky ways that companies are managing to have their cake and eat it too — broadcasting a low, competitive price but making it up in the official-sounding fees they add to your bill.

Sullivan discusses all of the major players who use sneaky fees to screw consumers: credit card companies, banks, retirement plan brokers, mortgage brokers and real estate agents, cell and home phone companies, cable companies, and more. It's really quite alarming how pretty much every company we come into contact with is finding sneaky ways to get even more money from us.

Gotcha Capitalism also has some great tips for how to get refunds for some of these fees, such as late fees and increased interest rates on your credit cards. He provides sample letters and even sample scripts for calling customer service. This is definitely a book you won't want to miss!

Update 3/2/2008:

An article about undisclosed bank fees appeared in the Washington Post today. The article talks about problems that are described in Gotcha Capitalism: the increase in fees, banks' failure to clearly disclose them, and "gotcha" fees such as overdraft fees.

Of course, the difference is that the article simply reports the existence of these problems, whereas Gotcha Capitalism talks about what you can do to avoid and, if necessary, recover sneaky and hidden fees.

Update 3/3/2008:

Today I noticed another headline related to a subject discussed in Gotcha Capitalism: an article on student loans. Apparently the credit crisis is causing some banks to think twice about their criteria for granting student loans. The article also mentions predatory lending, which is rampant in school loans.

Again, the article is primarily just reporting on the subject. Gotcha Capitalism offers a much more thorough discussion of the difference between student loan programs, and advice on how to protect yourself from predatory lending.

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