En español | Have you ever tried negotiating with credit card companies only to wind up frustrated because they wouldn't budge?
See also: AARP's Credit Card Payoff Calculator.
Sometimes, one easy phone call is all it takes to get the interest rate on a credit card lowered. In other cases, you have to be far more persistent to achieve what you want — whether that's getting a lower rate, having late fees eliminated or requesting a waiver of over-the-limit charges.
If you have a solid payment track record, you likely have more wiggle room to negotiate with a creditor. But even if your credit record isn't perfect, here are 10 tips to help you negotiate a better deal from your credit card company.
1. Call in the morning
Don't call at the end of the day when customer service representatives are tired, stressed and have been dealing all day with irate cardholders. Also avoid calling on the weekends. There may not be a supervisor on duty if you need one.
2. Be polite in making any requests
Get the conversation off to a good start by using good manners. Say "hello" or "good morning" to the person you're talking to and call her by name, as in "Good morning, Amanda, this is Elaine Jones, I'm calling about my account." Make sure your tone sounds like you are making requests, not demands. Be friendly and conversational, not adversarial, to establish a good rapport and get the cooperation of the person on the other end of telephone.
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3. Request to speak to a supervisor if necessary
If you get nowhere with the person you're talking to, don't be afraid to "escalate" your phone call by asking to speak with a supervisor. Even if the conversation isn't confrontational or negative, you may require a manager, because some employees will say they don't have the power to honor your request.
4. Point out your length of time as a customer
For those of you who've been with a credit card company for a number of years, use your long-term status as leverage in asking for what you want. This can really work in your favor because most banks value loyal, long-term customers.
5. Emphasize how much business you've done
Many of you might have racked up a lot of charges over time. If you've been a valued customer by virtue of having charged many goods and services, make that known. And state that you also value the relationship with your creditor and would like to remain a customer in good standing.
6. Stress your willingness to pay what you owe
Creditors may not be inclined to be flexible with individuals they perceive as trying to "get over." The worst thing you can do is to convey the impression that you're a "deadbeat" who is out to weasel out of paying your obligations. A better strategy: stress that you are, in fact, willing and desirous of paying your bills.
7. Reveal any extenuating circumstances
In cases where there have been out of the ordinary circumstances, let your creditors know this. For instance, if you lost your job, suffered a death in the family or something major happened in your life that caused you to miss a payment, tell them. Also make it clear if something happened that prevented you from getting your bills, such as you moved addresses or got divorced and your ex- got the statements. Creditors may be willing to waive late fees in such cases.
8. Make "first-time" cases work in your favor
If you've never been late before or you've never had an over-the limit fee assessed, ask directly for a removal of a late fee or over-the-limit charge. A little-known fact is that most credit card companies give their employees the authority (without even getting a supervisor's approval) of waiving late fees once every 12 months. If this is the case for you, do ask to get those fees removed. You might be surprised at how easily they will agree.
9. Mention their competition
When you're negotiating for a lower interest rate, mention that you might be inclined to take your business elsewhere. The point here is not to make an idle threat. And I wouldn't start the conversation off with talk about you possibly going to a competitor. But you'd certainly be justified in exploring your options — and telling the creditor about other companies' balance transfer deals or lower interest-rate offers — if they won't budge on high interest rate cards.
10. Document all conversations in writing
In the event you have to go back and get something corrected, or removed, it helps your case if you can refer to your written notes and say, "I spoke to John Smith on this date, and was told such and such."
If all these efforts fail, you can always ask for a review of your account again in a few months. For example, if your request for a lower rate is denied, ask a supervisor if he or she would be willing to reconsider their position in, say, three or six months. If they agree, document the person's name, and put a reminder on your calendar to call back at the appropriate time.