Junkyard Dogs: The Law and Economics of “Junk” Fees


The notion of “junk” fees is a fine piece of rhetoric, but useless as an analytical tool. Many fees identified as junk impose costs on consumers who generate those costs – rather than forcing others to subsidize their behavior. For example, credit card late fees deter late payments and their associated costs while only world travelers pay foreign currency transaction fees. There is no reason for ordinary consumers to subsidize either group. Because information is costly, consumers rationally focus on the elements of price that are most important in their own circumstances. Requirements to disclose everything everywhere will only interfere with this process. Both the structure of pricing, and the level of prices, should be determined by competition in the marketplace. As we observe, the result is detailed fee structures for some products and services, and bundled pricing for others. Attempts to regulate pricing structures by requiring itemized prices increased the costs of real estate settlements. Regulating components of credit card pricing structures led to increases in other fees and reductions in credit availability. Competition over pricing structures is far more likely to satisfy consumer preferences than an inevitably overbroad set of regulatory requirements.