I’ve been called many things in my life, but “inactive” is not one of them. I’m physically active (I’ve raced Ironman), I’m sexually active (I don’t kiss and tell), and I’m proactive (I get things done). So when Scotiabank charged my Visa a $10 inactive fee this month, I nearly fell off my reactive butt.

What the heck is an inactive fee, and how did I attract such idiocy into my wallet? I skulked around the interwebs for a possible answer, ’cause the interwebs are comprised of cranky credit card customers, right?

inactive fee

Turns out I’m not the only lackadaisical shopper stooped by inactivity and charged with inane credit card fees. But since most people use their credit cards, locating others with my inactivity problem required some serious Back to the Future time travel — I had to return to the year 2006 without a time traveling DeLorean.

Related: What order should I pay off my credit cards?

The Red Flag Deals Forum — a vocal group of fiscal frugalists — had 2006 experience with no-fee Visas and $10 inactivity fees. Some thought the idle fee was automagically billed if you failed to shop while carrying a credit balance for a year — which means the plastic bastards owe YOU money. Others thought the fee was just plain stupid.

I think both. Turns out my Visa has owed me the princely sum of 33 cents for nearly 12 months. I should charge those jerks interest — maybe then I could afford that DeLorean.

credit cards

Now, being who I am (a curious blogger thing) with a love for most things Michael J. Fox (Teen Wolf sucked), I decided to DO something, and sitting idle with inactivity wasn’t one of them. So I called Visa (while wearing Back To The Future approved purple Calvin Klein underwear).


How to reverse a credit card inactive fee

Call up your creditor and try a script kinda like this.

Visa: Please choose your own adventure by punching a bunch of dumb menu options. Enter your credit card digits, say your name, give us your birth date, tell us your Mother’s maiden name, give us those three numbers on the back of your card, enter your bra size, and verify the age you lost your virginity. Perfect, now listen to Muzak…

Me: Thinking … I wanna eat my phone … 8 minutes later … RIIIIINNNG!

Visa: Hello, please verify your card number and the digits on the back.

Me: I already entered that stuff, and I don’t want to revisit the whole virginity thing again.

Visa: You just need to verify, Ma’am.

Me: I’d rather verify my $10 inactive fee, and clarify that we can do something more awesome with that money, like reverse the charge! Is it ’cause Visa owes me 33 cents?

Visa: The $10 inactive fee is charged to all cardholders who have not used their no-fee credit card for 12 consecutive months. Nothing to do with the 33 cents. Many credit cards charge this fee, Ma’am.

Me: So I’m being punished for not shopping enough? AND you jerks owe me money!

Visa: Laughter. I guess so. But I can credit your account if you buy something small, something worth $10.

Me: So, I have to spend $10 before Visa will let me have my ten bucks back? This is a financial hostage situation. I don’t like the math.

Visa: I’ll monitor your account for the fee reversal. Have a nice day.


My inactive Visa situation is not unusual — many credit card companies will punish you for taking a year off shopping. Buy nothing for 12 months and get slapped with a cool $10 to $25 inactive fee. The power is in being familiar with your cardholder agreement, and keeping up with the ever changing world of credit card fees. And beware of paying another sneaky fee — credit card balance insurance — here’s why 5 Reasons to Avoid Credit Card Balance Protection Insurance.

Sleuthing your credit card fees

I don’t love reading cardholder agreements either — the text is small and the language is painfully unfun. But do try. There are other places you can find the fee-hungry damage various financial institutions can inpart on your plastic, though.

Canadians can start with the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada’s Credit Service Fees Comparison Table. Give this page a scan, find your credit card, read the footnotes, and get in the know.

Americans have the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau’s Credit Card Consumer Guide to get a plastic education. Go read it, now.

Next, take a peek at your bank’s website. Most financial institutions have a credit card section where they list ‘fees at a glace’. If you don’t like what you see, switch cards.

What did I buy for $10?

When a bank holds my money hostage because I don’t shop enough, I get a little hostile. I then get creative.

Since the cash was basically a wash, I decided to clean my hands of the insanity by spending the $10 on something that makes me happy. So I walked into my grocery store and bought a bunch of non-perishable food items. I then donated the lot to a local food bank. I figured, while some banks are jerks, other banks are pretty darn good.

food bank

I’ll be cancelling this credit card once the fee is reversed.

[Related: Are you paying just the minimum balance on your credit card?]

Until then, maybe someone could donate a DeLorean to us? I have an active imagination, and cruising past my former bank in a cool car with one less inactive credit card could be fun. We could flip them our doors. I’ll wear my purple panties. Promise.

Love love love,