Welcome to Day 8 of our 30-Day Easy Money Makeover! Every day in April, we're bringing you strategies to help you improve, and feel more confident about, your money situation. Follow along and see the rest of the calendar here.
It’s not your imagination. Your monthly expenses are pricier than they were a matter of months ago. Bill creep happens — credit card interest rates rise, introductory WiFi offers expire meaning your internet bill gets steep, cellphone bills go up. It may get to the point where the amount you have to pay is difficult to afford.
So what are you going to do about it?
“You can continue to overpay and pay providers more every month, or you can fight for discounts,” says Brian Keaney, COO and cofounder of BillShark, a bill negotiation company.
Choosing to fight for discounts from customer service can work, saving you money on a regular basis. BillShark says it has successfully scored better rates for 80 percent of its customers. And a 2018 CreditCards.com survey found that just by asking their credit card issuer, 70 percent of cardholders successfully got a card’s annual fee waived or lowered, and 56 percent got a lower interest rate.
If you’re nervous about negotiating, you could hire a bill negotiation service. These companies do the talking for you, and take a cut of any savings they secure you. (So for example, if their efforts cut your cable bill by $20 per month — $120 over the next year — they might take up to $60 of that. If they fail to score you a better rate, you pay nothing.)
But if you’re ready to take on your credit card issuer, cable company, or other provider solo, check out the tips below from personal finance experts who do this day in and day out.
Their advice worked for me: I managed to cut $55 from a monthly bill for my family’s packaged internet, phone, and cable bundle, dropping the total from $301 to $246. Over a year, that’s $660 saved. (Where’s my bill negotiation cut, Dad?)
If I managed that with one phone call, I bet you can find success with some of your bills, too.
Before you pick up the phone, think about what you want the end result to be, says Ben Kurland, cofounder of BillFixers, a bill negotiation company. “If you control the rules of the conversation, so you’re saying, ‘I want to keep the exact same services, but I want to spend less’…they’ll work with you to find you a deal within those limits,” he says.
There’s a reason we timed this challenge to fall on a weekday: Keaney says the best and more senior reps work a 9-to-5 shift on weekdays. Call outside that time frame, and you’re decreasing your chances of success. The worst time to call? Weekends, when call volume is typically at its highest.
Whenever you call, Keaney says, be ready for extended wait times and getting unexpectedly disconnected. It’s all part of the process.
Negotiating can be intimidating—especially if you’re someone who normally tries to avoid confrontation. Psych yourself up so that you can maintain your cool while playing the game. Keaney says representatives are more likely to give a discount to someone they feel a connection with and seem serious about keeping their service for a lowered rate.
“When you talk you want to be friendly and confident. Don’t be a jerk,” he says. “You have to have empathy for what they are trying to do as well. In those cases, reps are more likely to work with you.”
Keaney says the biggest mistake he sees people make when calling a provider is leading off by saying they want to lower their bill. When you speak to a representative, the first thing to say is you want to cancel the account because it costs too much.
Once you’re in the thick of negotiating, don’t use words like “little” or phrases like “what can you do for me,” Keaney says. Reps are trained for that and will respond with a lowball rate, he says. Use power words and phrases like “I want to save a ton.”
If you’re not satisfied with the offer a rep tosses your way—or if he insists there’s nothing more he can offer—ask for a transfer to the retention department. True to the name, its whole goal is to retain customers, and reps there often have more leeway to make deals.
After putting your all into a negotiation, you want to make absolutely sure you see that discount on your next bill. So do your due diligence: Take notes including who you spoke with and their ID number or extension, and what offer was made. Ask if you can get a confirmation of that via email.
And any time you provide details (like your account number), have the rep repeat it back to you. “It forces them to look at the information,” says Keaney.
There’s no secret to permanently stopping bill creep: With few exceptions, rates increase within a year after negotiating a bill. “If you haven’t negotiated with your cable provider in the last two years, you’re overpaying,” says Kurland. “So you really need to be calling and negotiating your bill every year, if not more frequently.”
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