Here Come the Surcharges

It’s just the cost of doing business—passed along to the consumer.

Photo credit: Jellaluna, CC BY 2.0.

Yesterday I made a charitable donation—like one does, in these times—and the online form asked me if I would like to pay the processing fees so that the organization could get the full amount of my donation.

I clicked “yes,” of course. I always say yes to these things, and I always feel kinda grumpy when I do. It’s another piece of “shadow work” (remember shadow work?) that’s been passed from the organization to the individual.

A Conversation With Craig Lambert, Author of ‘Shadow Work’

Then I read Paul Constant’s newest article at Civic Skunk Works, and realized that this trend isn’t just limited to non-profits. Some Washington State restaurants are adding surcharges at the bottom of their customers’ tabs to “offset the cost of the Seattle Minimum Wage.”

What to Do When A Restaurant Puts a Minimum-Wage Service Charge on Your Bill

Constant notes that this move—made by restaurants that already have a unique relationship with the minimum wage—is political:

Rather than just raising prices naturally, these restaurant managers are making an overtly political statement when they add minimum wage surcharges to their menus. They are protesting the fact that they have to pay their workers a living wage.

Which is gross. But I don’t think this surcharge creep is limited to restaurants—I mean, I just explained how charities are doing it—so I started looking for other surcharges on recent bills.

Ticket companies have, of course, maximized the number of surcharges they’re allowed to add to the price of admission. A recent $10 e-ticket cost me $12.32 after a $1.29 service fee and an $0.32 processing fee plus $0.58 in taxes.

I have to click into two subpages before I can see an itemized list of all the taxes and fees I paid on my last plane ticket: $8.20 for “US flight segment tax,” $9 for “US psgr. facility charge,” $11.20 for “US Sept. 11 security fee,” and $16.60 for “US transportation tax.” (Total: $45.)

My health insurance bill includes both my premium costs and a $1 charge for “non-excepted abortion services,” which essentially means that the federal government got cranky about the idea of making taxpayers pay for abortions and health insurers had to figure out another way to bill us.

My phone bill includes a number of additional charges beyond my monthly mobile fees, including a “federal USF surcharge” to offset the costs my phone provider is required to pay to the FCC.

Understanding Your Telephone Bill

A “Universal Service” line item may appear on your telephone bill when your service provider chooses to recover USF contributions from you, the customer. The FCC does not require this charge to be passed on to you, but service providers are allowed to do so.

That seems to sum it up. Service providers don’t have to pass these charges along to us, but they’re doing it anyway.

What other surcharges have you seen recently? Do you pay for processing fees when you make charitable donations? Have you been in a restaurant that added a surcharge to cover the cost of the minimum wage?

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