What to Do If You See a COVID-19 Surcharge on Your Receipt

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Illustration for article titled What to Do If You See a COVID-19 Surcharge on Your Receipt

 

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If you’re beginning to venture back out into society to purchase any variety of goods and services, take a look at your receipts: You may see you’ve been hit with a surcharge related to the ongoing pandemic.

Something listed as a “COVID-19 surcharge” could be for just about anything. For a hair salon, perhaps the $3 fee went toward the cost of extra cleaning supplies. At restaurants, the surcharges may be used to reflect fluctuating ingredient costs.

And while some of the businesses who have implemented these fees upon reopening have explained them via social media, signage and other efforts, many customers still feel put off by it all.

When it comes down to it, businesses can add on charges for whatever they darn well please. In 46 states, it’s legal to charge customers extra just for using a credit card to pay, noted Ted Rossman, industry analyst at CreditCards.com.

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So while a surcharge relating to the pandemic may seem outrageous, it’s well within the business’s rights. They’ve chosen to show you their temporary increased costs of doing business instead of raising prices across the board indefinitely.

“I experienced a COVID-19 surcharge as early as late March,” said Jen Smith, who blogs at Modern Frugality and cohosts the Frugal Friends podcast. “I got an iced coffee from a local business that charged me a mandatory 15% tip. I understand small businesses are suffering but taking the choice to tip away from me made me not want to go back.” (Note: Smith and I used to work together.)

“While few, if any, customers would be enthusiastic about paying more for any reason, cost increases seem to feel especially egregious when they’re itemized. They’re hard to miss when they’re right there on the receipt in black and white,” Rossman wrote.

Smith said that if you see a charge you don’t recognize, you should ask about it—you know, politely. And if it doesn’t add up to you, you can share your feelings—again, politely.

“Many business owners are scared and making decisions based on that fear,” she explained. If a surcharge doesn’t sit right with you, there’s a good chance other customers feel the same way. The proprietor may not even be a fan of the additional charge, but feels it necessary to make ends meet.

“Check restaurant and store websites and social media channels before you head out so you’re not surprised by these fees,” advised consumer and shopping expert Lisa Lee Freeman.

Freeman said while you may feel annoyed upon seeing extra fees, “Keep in mind that some businesses are trying to avoid raising prices, so they’re charging these fees temporarily.” As we settle further and further into our new normal, you’ll probably see some of those surcharges go away. In the meantime, she recommends budgeting for higher prices, especially for food.

Smith, on the other hand, said to make sure you keep an eye on your own budget first. “People may want to support their local businesses, but you have to prioritize your financial wellbeing,” she said. “That may mean not financially supporting businesses as much as you’d like to.”