Negotiating Household Expenses Takes Moxie, But The Rewards Can Be Great!
It’s certainly not an enviable way to spend your free time, but it just may free up some cash: negotiating some of your expenses. What, you say? Calling my credit card company, my cable company, or my medical providers to lower my bill can actually work? If you want to lower your household expenses, read on.
US News and World Reports‘ Trent Hamm says the companies you pay bills to may not be as faceless as you think when you see automatic payments leaving your checking account each month like clockwork. “Many people don’t bother to negotiate,’ says Hamm. “They look at the price, decide whether they’re willing to pay it, and move on. The truth is that many of the expenses consumers pay are negotiable. You can often talk businesses into lowering their fees or rates for you. It just takes a willingness to pick up the phone, call a customer service number and stand up for yourself.”
While bargaining is done all over the world, little of it is done by the consumer here in the US. People in other countries grow up haggling over the price of produce at their local market, buying a trinket at a roadside shop for half the price on the sign, or arguing with the hotel desk over having to pay a late check-out fee when the hotel is half empty anyway. While that may be difficult to do here in the US, some things are easier to negotiate than others, such as credit card interest, cellphone bills, cable bills, and medical bills.
To make a deal with your credit card company, first determine that you are a good customer (you don’t usually carry a balance, haven’t missed payments, pay more than the minimum each month). “Call the number on the back of the card, get a person on the phone and state that you need an interest rate reduction, or you may cancel your card,” says Hamm.” If the customer service representative can’t help you, ask to speak to his or her supervisor. If you have a good track record, your rate will often be temporarily or permanently lowered, saving you significant cash with each and every bill.”
As for cell phones, as long as you’re not in the middle of a contract, your bill can be negotiated. Why? There are a slew of carriers vying for your business, putting you in the driver’s seat. “If you don’t have a current cellphone contract, contact your cell provider either through its customer support line or in-store store representatives and state that you need a lower rate and are considering switching carriers because you can’t afford its current rates,” says Hamm. “The representative will often find a much better deal for you, particularly if you haven’t negotiated in a while. You’ll find that you’re paying much less for the same service or getting more services for your dollar.”
It’s amazing how easily your cable or satellite TV company will cave on your bill — again as long as you’re not in the middle of a contract. When it’s time to stay with them or flee, you are in the best negotiating position. You actually have a lot of leverage, especially in this era, where a lot of subscribers are opting for cheaper streaming services for programs and movies. “Do some research first and check for competing satellite and cable packages that offer the channels you want,” says Hamm. “Then call up your cable company and tell the representative you’re considering switching to another service due to cost.
Hospitals are usually willing to work with you on medical bills in terms of negotiating a lower total bill and working out a payment plan that won’t put you in a bad financial state. “Many medical bills wind up in collections with the medical institution unable to collect much of the debt at all, so they’re usually happy to work with you,” says Hamm. “The key here is to be up front with your financial situation right off the bat and make it clear that you’re going to have a difficult time paying off the debt. Simply ask for a reduction in the total bill if possible and, if not, seek out a more friendly payment solution.” Even dentists and doctors often agree to interest-free payments if you ask. If, however, you receive a medical bill that seems unfair — such as a follow-up appointment where you are suddenly charged a “facilities fee,” there is still no reason not to call and state your case. If you call the medical office or facility, someone might cut your bill by half. And if you were never informed of the fee to begin with, you can appeal the entire amount for non-disclosure. If that doesn’t work, call your insurance company and state your case why the claim should never have been charged in the first place.
No one will tell you that negotiating anything is a walk in the park, nor will they tell you this will work every time. You may get routinely disconnected, have to speak to 5 or 6 people before you hit pay dirt, or repeatedly call to get somewhere. Stomach acid may last for the duration of any of these calls and even make you lose some sleep. But take heart — you won’t be doing this every day. And having that extra cash because of your efforts could go a long way to paying for that upcoming vacation or let you tack on a few extra bucks to your mortgage payment each month.