The ultimate guide to credit card application restrictions
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Editor’s note: This is a recurring post, regularly updated with new information.
If you’re relatively new to the points-and-miles world, you might be a bit gun shy when it comes to applying for new credit cards. Most of my friends and family members find it hard to believe that I currently have 17 active travel rewards credit cards in my wallet and pay more than $1,000 per year in annual fees.
Just about every week I hear something along the lines of, “Aren’t you afraid that you’ll wreck your credit score?” While it’s true that card applications will temporarily lower your score as a result of the new hard inquiries on your profile, there are many other things that go into calculating that credit score number.
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Still, you want to make sure that any applications you make have a high probability of being approved. After all, if an application is denied, you’re taking a hard inquiry on your credit report (and the resulting temporary drop in your score) without any upside.
Many top issuers have added additional restrictions over the last few years that make it harder to get approved for a new card and/or earn a sign-up bonus, so it’s important to know which bank has what rules before you apply. While you can never guarantee that your application will be approved, you really want to avoid wasting an application when you have absolutely no chance at success.
With that in mind, today I’ll take you through the restrictions for all of the major issuers on the market today: American Express, Chase, Citi, Bank of America, Barclaycard, Capital One and Wells Fargo. For this analysis, I’ll look at three main factors to consider for each individual issuer as you plan your application strategy:
- Number of cards
- Number and timing of applications
- Sign-up bonuses
One disclaimer before diving in: the majority of these restrictions aren’t considered hard-and-fast rules applicable to every single scenario. I’ve heard stories of exceptions to just about every one of them. You could completely ignore a restriction and still get approved/earn a welcome bonus, or you could follow every recommendation perfectly, yet still get denied for a card. As the saying goes, YMMV (your mileage may vary).
Number of cards
One of the first steps banks take during an economic downturn is to tighten their lending and approval standards so they can minimize risk. The coronavirus pandemic has inflicted heavy damage to nearly every square inch of the U.S. economy. Amex took a decisive step in this direction by implementing a four-credit-card limit for each individual. They’ve since upped this to five cards. You can also have up to 10 (formerly known as charge cards). Enrollment required for select benefits.
Related: How many credit cards should I have?
In the past I’d read isolated reports of readers having more than five American Express credit cards at any one time, especially after the Hilton conversion from Citi to Amex.
We strongly discourage everyone from ever carrying a balance — it actually tops TPG’s 10 commandments for travel rewards credit cards. Carrying a balance and accruing interest will more than negate any points or miles you earn on the card, and will also have a negative impact on your credit score.
Number and timing of applications
When it comes to American Express’ rules for how many applications you can have and how frequently you can submit them, again, there aren’t any published, hard-and-fast requirements. However, I did find a number of data points that may help you decide how to apply:
- You can apply for two cards in a single day. However, many reports indicate that at least one application will likely be put on hold as a fraud prevention mechanism, especially if you’re applying for two cards. In addition, there’s no guarantee that those applications will be combined into a single hard inquiry on your credit report,al though it does happen. Enrollment required for select benefits.
- You may be able to get approved for more than two cards in a 90-day period. However, most of these reports were a combination of credit and formerly known as charge cards, so the general rule of thumb is that you shouldn’t apply for three or more Amex credit cards within three months. Enrollment required for select benefits.
Amex restricts cardmembers from earning a welcome bonus more than once per lifetime — no matter how long it’s been since you applied. For example, here’s the specific language from the offer terms page for The Platinum Card® from American Express:
“Welcome bonus offer not available to applicants who have or have had this product.”
That sentence is crystal clear: if you currently have (or have had) this particular card, you are not eligible to earn the welcome bonus (currently 100,000 points after you spend $6,000 on purchases on your new card in the first six months of card membership). There’s similar language on the application pages across Amex’s entire portfolio of cards, both business and personal. It even extends to previous versions of cards in certain instances, such as the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card:
“Welcome Offer not available to applicants who have or have had the Hilton Honors Surpass® Card or the Hilton Honors Amex Ascend Card.”
You lose eligibility for future Amex welcome bonuses by holding a credit card, not by earning the bonus on it. This is why you should always think twice about upgrading or downgrading an Amex card, especially if there’s no bonus attached.
Note: Personal and business versions of the same card are treated as separate, so you should be eligible to earn the welcome bonus on each one once during your life.
American Express has a site tool that allows you to double check your eligibility for a welcome bonus. This check actually takes place during the application process but before you officially submit your application, and allows you to withdraw the application if you’re not eligible for the bonus before Amex performs a hard inquiry on your credit report. This eligibility tool also invokes the second phrase of legalese that’s been added to most Amex credit card applications:
“American Express may also consider the number of American Express Cards you have opened and closed as well as other factors in making a decision on your welcome offer eligibility.”
In other words, even if you’ve never held a specific Amex credit card before, Amex’s proprietary anti-fraud algorithm might determine that you’re not eligible to earn a bonus on it. We don’t know exactly what behaviors this system flags, but things like closing a credit card as soon as you earn the welcome bonus (or even closing it exactly one year after you opened it) don’t look good.
Given these restrictions, you’ll want to time your applications very well to make sure you’re getting the highest possible welcome bonus. Don’t forget to check the CardMatch tool to identify if you qualify for possible improved offers higher than the publicly advertised bonus (offers subject to change at any time).
Here’s the big exception: Amex will occasionally target cardholders for a card they’ve already opened, and give them the opportunity to earn another welcome bonus. Be sure to read the fine print of these targeted offers to see if there’s “lifetime language” in the terms.
Number of Cards
From what we can tell, Chase doesn’t formally limit the number of credit cards you can have. I currently have seven Chase-issued cards:
- Ink Business Cash Credit Card
- Chase Freedom Unlimited
- Chase Freedom Flex
- Chase Sapphire Reserve
- United Explorer Card
- World of Hyatt Credit Card
- IHG Rewards Club Select Credit Card (no longer available since the launch of the IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card)
Other TPG staffers have even more. For example, editor-at-large Zach Honig has had as many as 11. As a result, it’s relatively safe to assume that Chase doesn’t put a hard ceiling on the number of cards you can have.
However, the issuer will often restrict how much total credit is extended to you across all your Chase cards. For example, let’s say you have four Chase credit cards with $25,000 credit lines on each, and Chase has determined that you should only have a total spending limit of $100,000. It’s highly unlikely that you’ll be immediately approved for another credit card. This isn’t due to the fact that it’s your fifth card — it’s simply a function of Chase deciding that you should only have a combined credit line of $100,000 across all of your accounts.
Fortunately, all hope is not lost if this happens. You can call Chase’s reconsideration line (888-245-0625) within a few days of your application and ask to shift around credit lines to get approval. You’ll then have five credit cards with the same $100,000 of total credit. I had to do this a few times when I was first building my credit history with Chase, although I haven’t had to on my last two applications.
Number and timing of applications
There isn’t a formal, consistent policy that limits the number or timing of your applications with Chase. The general rule of thumb is to limit applications to one personal and one business card within 90 days, but I’ve also read reports of applicants being approved for two personal cards in a single month.
It’s also worth pausing to talk about risk tolerance here. Chase (and Amex) have been known to unilaterally close all accounts of users they deem to be high-risk or potentially fraudulent. Unfortunately, on paper, award travel enthusiasts look very similar to calculated criminals. You might want to consider taking things slower and not rushing through your applications with Chase, even if there’s a chance you can get approved for more cards in a shorter period of time. One common thread I’ve heard among Chase shutdown stories was a barrage of recent credit inquiries (with Chase and other issuers) in the months leading up to the shutdown.
Chase’s one hard-and-fast application rule is commonly known as the 5/24 rule. If you’ve opened five or more credit cards with any issuer over the previous 24 months, you will almost certainly be denied for most Chase-issued credit cards with little to no chance at reconsideration.
A few notes about this policy:
- Chase will look at all accounts across all issuers (not just their own).
- You may be able to get approved if you’re just an authorized user. While success isn’t guaranteed, you may be able to get around the 5/24 rule if you’re just an authorized user on any of your “new” accounts from the previous two years. After immediately getting denied for my United Explorer Card, I was able to successfully get a phone agent to reconsider my application because the fifth new account on my credit report was actually my wife’s. Depending on your personal circumstances, you might want to consider removing yourself as an authorized user and waiting 30-60 days to apply so there’s less chance of the system automatically rejecting you.
- Business cards generally don’t count. Even though you list your social security number when you apply for business cards, the accounts themselves sit on a separate business credit report and as such usually do not count against your 5/24 status. There are a few exceptions to this, such as business cards issued by Capital One, Discover and TD Bank, which will show on your personal credit report and use up a 5/24 slot.
Chase also imposes restrictions on earning sign-up bonuses, though these aren’t as strict as those of American Express. In general, you won’t be able to earn a sign-up bonus on a Chase card if you currently hold that card in your wallet or if you earned a sign-up bonus on that exact card in the last 24-48 months.
Here’s the specific language on most Chase cards’ application pages (this was copied from the Chase Freedom Unlimited‘s page):
“This product is not available to either (i) current cardmembers of this credit card, or (ii) previous cardmembers of this credit card who received a new cardmember bonus for this credit card within the last 24 months.”
In other words, you must cancel or downgrade a card before reapplying for it, but you don’t need to wait two years to apply after cancelling. The 24-month waiting period starts when you receive the sign-up bonus, not when you cancel the card.
It’s also worth noting that there are some slight variations to this policy that apply to specific cards:
- Sapphire cards: This policy lumps both the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and the Chase Sapphire Reserve together. You can’t get the bonus on one if you currently have the other. Additionally, the waiting period is 48 months
- Southwest cards: You cannot earn a Southwest personal card bonus if you’ve earned one in the past 24 months. This applies to the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card, the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card and the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier® Credit Card.
- Eligibility for all Marriott Bonvoy cards: Chase and American Express have teamed up to make it harder to be approved for Marriott credit cards. This means that not only are the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card and the Marriott Bonvoy Bold Credit Card restricted by the 5/24 rule, but whether you have or have had any of the Amex Bonvoy cards also factors in. For more information on Marriott Bonvoy credit card eligibility, see this guide.
Number of cards
Citi typically doesn’t limit your overall number of credit cards. They use an approach of limiting your overall credit across all Citi cards. Once you’ve reached that tipping point, you’ll likely be given the “application pending” notice when you apply for a new card. A quick call to Citi’s reconsideration line (800-695-5171) should help you get approved by moving some credit from another card to the new one.
That said, one of my colleagues was actually immediately denied for a Citi card in January 2018, with the reason given that he had reached the “maximum number of Citi credit cards.” It’s unclear if that was based on the number of Citi cards he had open at the time of his application (seven) or if it was based on the number of cards he had opened with the issuer across his entire lifetime. Citi is also known to be incredibly sensitive to recent inquiries, so after you’ve used up your 5/24 slots with Chase you might want to consider applying for Citi cards next before your credit report gets too cluttered.
Number and timing of applications
Citi has very specific rules for how frequently you can apply for credit cards. There are slightly different rules for personal and business cards:
- You can only apply for one card (personal or business) every eight days and no more than two cards in a 65-day window.
- You can only apply for one business card every 90 days.
Yes, there are exceptions. Follow these guidelines for the best results, though.
Citi is another issuer that allows you to earn a welcome bonus multiple times on a given credit card. However, there’s a mandatory waiting period between canceling and re-applying that you must follow: 24 months from either opening or closing the card. Here’s a sample of the language pulled from the application page of the Citi Premier® Card:
“Bonus ThankYou® Points are not available if you received a new cardmember bonus for Citi Rewards+®, Citi ThankYou® Preferred, Citi ThankYou® Premier/Citi Premier® or Citi Prestige®, or if you have closed any of these accounts, in the past 24 months.
Citi appears to have given themselves some wiggle room to deny you the bonus if you’ve earned it before — but all the data points I’ve heard have been successful with re-earning the intro offer.
Citi focuses on when you closed the account in addition to when you opened it or received a sign-up bonus. In essence, this means that your 24-month clock starts ticking the moment you’re approved for a card. If you later close that card, the clock resets. You then need to wait 24 months from the date you closed your account to be eligible for a sign-up bonus on the card again. One massive note is that downgrading cards do not reset the 24-month clock. Credit cards editor Juan Ruiz has confirmed this firsthand.
Unfortunately, Citi is stricter with some of its cobranded credit cards than it is with its core ThankYou-earning cards. While cards like the Citi Premier follow the 24-month rule mentioned above, Citi’s portfolio of American Airlines cards require you to wait 48 months in order to be eligible to earn the bonus again. For example, here’s the language found on the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard®:
“American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles are not available if you have received a new account bonus for a Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive account in the past 48 months.”
As you can see, Citi has its own rules pertaining to cards of the same “family”:
- ThankYou Rewards cards: Opening or closing a Citi ThankYou points earning card will make you ineligible for a welcome bonus on another ThankYou points earning card for at least 24 months.
- American Airlines cards: Citi lumps the personal American Airlines cards together (not small business cards). As a result, you should be able to earn the bonus on both the American airlines business card and one of the personal cards within a 48-month period.
With all these rules in mind, let’s take a look at a couple of examples:
- You opened the Citi Premier in June 2019 and earned the sign-up bonus shortly thereafter. You now want to open the Citi Rewards+® Card. You need to wait until July 2021 to ensure you’re outside of the 24-month window, and you should not close the ThankYou Preferred during that 24 month period or you’ll reset the clock back to zero.
- You opened the Citi AAdvantage Executive card in June 2019, earning the sign-up bonus shortly thereafter. You later cancelled the card in May 2020. If you’re then interested in another Citi AA card, you must wait until June 2024 if you also want the sign-up bonus, since that will be more than 48 months since you earned your previous bonus.
The information for the Citi Prestige card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
Related reading: The best Citi credit cards of 2020
Bank of America
Number of cards
Bank of America doesn’t have hard-and-fast rules regarding how many total cards you’re allowed to have. Given that it was previously possible to get approved for multiples of the same card in a very short period of time (which has since changed, as we’ll discuss), there are plenty of customers with Bank of America cards numbering into the double digits.
Number and timing of applications
Bank of America used to be one of the most flexible issuers when it came to approving applications. This began to change in 2017, as first documented on Reddit, and has since become known as the 2/3/4 rule:
- You can only get approved for 2 new cards in a 30-day period
- You can only get approved for 3 new cards in a 12-month period
- You can only get approved for 4 new cards in a 24-month period
As a result, you could get approved for the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® credit card and the Bank of America® Premium Rewards® credit card if you apply for both of them on the same day or within the same month. But if you then apply for another Bank of America card within two months of these applications, you’ll likely be denied. Data points indicate that this does not extend to business credit cards issued by the bank.
In addition, reports indicate that you can’t get approved for a second version of the same card within 90 days of your first application. So if you want to get two Alaska Airlines credit cards (to get the carrier’s companion ticket for your entire family, for example), you have to wait at least three months.
Bank of America’s 2/3/4 rule has been formally communicated by the issuer’s customer service reps to applicants, though it’s worth noting that it is not posted online. It only applies to cards issued by Bank of America (they don’t consider cards opened from other issuers). That said, the bank may still consider the total number of cards and hard inquiries you’ve had when it runs your credit, so you may get denied even if you fall below these thresholds.
Anecdotally, we’re seeing data points of further restrictions. Customers with a BofA deposit account may not be approved for new cards if they’ve opened seven cards (across all issuers) in the last 12 months, while customers without a BoA deposit account will be rejected if they’ve opened three or more cards in the last 12 months.
Once you make it through these restrictions and actually get approved, the bank doesn’t have any published language restricting your sign-up bonuses. You can earn a sign-up bonus on the same card multiple times, as long as your applications are timed given the above rules and you’re actually approved for the card.
Number of cards
Barclays typically doesn’t limit the number of cards you have open with them at any one time. The bank will, however, consider your overall credit profile before approving you, as noted by the following language on most of its card application pages:
“If at the time of your application you do not meet the credit or income criteria previously established for this offer, or the income you report is insufficient based on your current obligations, we will not be able to open an account for you.”
Given this information, it seems that a large number of cards, a high number of hard inquiries or large balances may still impact your chances of successfully opening a new card.
Number and timing of applications
Barclays isn’t known to have any specific rules or policies like 5/24 when it comes to applying for new cards. However, there are a few general rules of thumb to follow if you’re looking to apply for multiple cards issued by the bank in a short period of time:
- You likely won’t get approved for multiple applications on the same day, even if you call reconsideration.
- You need to cancel an existing card and then wait for a period of time before re-applying for that card (the recommendation is six months).
- Barclays has been known to look at prior spending on existing cards to determine approval for a new card. If you’re looking at a new one and currently have a card or two with the issuer and haven’t spent much (or anything), take them out of your desk drawer and use them for a few months before applying.
Again, these aren’t concrete rules but general guidelines to follow.
When it comes to sign-up bonuses, Barclays typically hasn’t prevented you from earning the sign-up bonus on a card multiple times, as long as you close the card first and then wait to apply (generally six months). However, the issuer does have a couple of notable items in the terms and conditions of popular cards such as the JetBlue Plus Mastercard. The first is as follows:
“This offer is available to new cardmembers only.”
This could be interpreted in two ways
- You’re not eligible for the bonus if you’re currently a cardholder of the card
- If you’ve had the card before, even if it’s been a year or more since it was opened, you’re technically not a “new cardmember” of the card.
This latter interpretation is potentially reinforced by different language on most Barclays-issued cards. The exact verbiage varies slightly, but here’s what it looks like on the AAdvantage® Aviator® Red World Elite Mastercard’s application page (emphasis mine):
“You may not be eligible for this offer if you currently have or previously had an account with us in this program. In addition, you may not be eligible for this offer if, at any time during our relationship with you, we have cause, as determined by us in our sole discretion, to suspect that the account is being obtained or will be used for abusive or gaming activity (such as, but not limited to, obtaining or using the account to maximize rewards earned in a manner that is not consistent with typical consumer activity and/or multiple credit card account applications/openings).”
The vague wording here means in a worst-case scenario, you could be approved for a new card as a previous cardholder, meet the minimum spending threshold and still miss out on a sign-up bonus if Barclaycard decides you’re ineligible for any of the above reasons. While you may have a perfectly legitimate reason for getting a second iteration of a card (e.g.: a new job with extensive travel on JetBlue), just be aware that a sign-up bonus may not be part of the package.
The information for the JetBlue Plus Mastercard and AAdvantage Aviator Red Mastercard has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
Number of cards
Unlike most of the others on this list, Capital One does restrict the number of personal cards you have in your wallet to two. As a result, if you have the Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit Card and the Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card, you won’t be able to open the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card to take advantage of that card’s Global Entry/TSA PreCheck fee credit (up to $100).
Note that this typically only applies to personal cards managed by Capital One — cobranded cards and small-business cards (such as the Capital One Spark Cash for Business) are generally excluded.
Number and timing of applications
Capital One is also known to have a hard-and-fast rule when it comes to timing your applications. You’re only able to get approved for one card every six months. This lumps personal and small business cards together. While this is the most stringent rule of the issuers on this list, the two-card limit noted above means that you aren’t truly missing out on much by being forced to wait at least six months between applications. Capital One is also known to be incredibly sensitive to recent inquiries, and many people (myself included) have received multiple rejection letters for the Capital One Venture Rewards Card despite a nearly perfect credit score.
The issuer has been known to award sign-up bonuses multiple times on the same card if you follow the above rules and are approved. However, just like Barclaycard, I see some language on the website for most Capital One cards that gives the issuer the right to not award the sign-up bonus. Here’s the specific verbiage from the Capital One Venture card application page:
“The bonus may not be available for existing or previous account holders.”
Once again, the use of the vague term “may not be available” seems to imply that you might be rolling the dice on applying for a new card and earning a bonus if you’re a current or past holder of that card.
Related: The best Capital One credit cards
Number of cards
Wells Fargo generally doesn’t limit the number of cards you can have, but the normal recommendations apply regarding your overall credit profile. They reserve the right, however, per the credit card application pages:
“We may also limit the total number of open Wells Fargo credit card accounts you have.”
Number and timing of applications
We don’t have a ton of data around the number of applications you can have with the bank. However, there’s a phrase on the terms and conditions page for most Wells Fargo-issued cards that’s worth repeating here:
“You may not qualify for an additional Wells Fargo credit card if you have opened a Wells Fargo credit card in the last 6 months.”
Once again, we run into that vague “may not” language, indicating that you could be denied for a new Wells Fargo card if you have one with the bank that’s less than six months old (and you may want to wait even longer — see the next section).
Many reports indicate that Wells Fargo is an issuer that often considers your “relationship status” with the bank when determining whether to approve you for a card. As a result, you may waste an application if you’re not currently a Wells Fargo customer or if you recently opened a new card with the bank.
Wells Fargo also has a relatively draconian (yet simultaneously vague) policy on welcome bonuses. Here’s the specific language from the terms and conditions of the Wells Fargo Platinum card:
“You may not be eligible for introductory annual percentage rates, fees, and/or bonus rewards offers if you opened a Wells Fargo Credit card within the last 15 months from the date of this application and you received introductory APR(s), fees, and/or bonus rewards offers, even if that account is closed and has a $0 balance.”
This is a blanket policy that applies to all Wells Fargo-issued cards. Though it again includes the term “may not,” reports indicate this 15-month language is generally enforced. So when you combine this language with the above six month rule, I’d recommend spacing out any Wells Fargo applications by at least 15 months to ensure you’re eligible for any welcome bonuses.
Related: The best Wells Fargo credit cards
Top travel credit cards are a great way to quickly add points and miles to your various loyalty account balances, and many carry a wealth of valuable perks in addition to an initial sign-up bonus. Unfortunately, if you misunderstand the nuances of each issuer’s application restrictions, you could be left with a hard inquiry plus a missed welcome bonus — or, even worse, a hard inquiry with a flat-out denial. While the policies above are a mix of “rules” and “guidelines,” I’d strongly encourage you to pay close attention to them as you plan out your next set of applications.
Additional reporting by Joseph Hostetler
Featured photo by The Points Guy.
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