Sick and tired of feeling broke? Explore these options
Consumers are savvier than ever with their money, but one of the basics – getting the lowest price possible – can trip up even the budgetary wizards among us. Ace the art of lowering your bills with these tips.
Use a service. Some companies will negotiate your bills for you. For instance,Shrinkabill.com will call your service providers and try to slash what you owe. If Shrinkabill can’t save you money, it will send you a $25 restaurant gift card. If the company does save you money, it’ll keep 45 percent of your savings (for the first year), and you’ll get 55 percent, though it plans to reduce the portion it keeps in the future, says Shrinkabill CEO Jordan Wolff.
Similar services Billcutterz.com and BillFixers.com will split your savings 50/50 for the first year.
Caveat: This isn’t completely hands off. You will be asked to provide your bill to these companies and possibly information like your mother’s maiden name and the last four digits of your Social Security number, to prove that they’re negotiating on your behalf. But if you’re not a great negotiator and dread making calls yourself, this might be time well spent.
Make a phone call and negotiate. Many people take this route. If you decide to join their ranks, Barry Gross, founder and CEO of Billcutterz.com, has some pointers. For starters, don’t let yourself be sidetracked by free-trial service offers. (Think: When the cable company dangles free HBO for a few months.)
“That’s not why you called,” Gross says. “You called to get discounts and save money. Nothing else. This diversion is a common technique used by many customer service reps.”
Gross also suggests not coming right out and asking if you can get a cheaper rate on a bill. Open-ended questions, where you won’t get a flat no, are better. Ask things like, “Where can you save me money?” Or: “What discounts are you offering right now that I can take advantage of?”
Call during off-hours. Earlier in the day is the optimal time, according to both Gross and Wolff. And whatever you do, avoid calling right before the lunch hour or closing.
“Customer service reps will be more likely to spend time with you on the phone. If they are less stressed out, you will have greater chances of success,” Wolff explains.
Contact your insurance agent. Don’t assume your insurance premiums can’t be lowered, either. If you bundle several policies with one company, you can generally see savings; on average, consumers save 15.97 percent by bundling homeowners and auto insurance policies, according to InsuranceQuotes.com, an insurance comparison website.
But you may be able to drop your bill in other, more creative ways. For instance: Have you made any changes that make your home, your car or yourself safer? If you’ve quit smoking, let your health insurer know. If you’ve purchased a security system for your home, give your insurance agent a call; you’ll likely see your homeowners insurance policydrop (an average of 20 percent, according to industry experts).
While you’re at it, ask your agent if there are any savings programs or offers you can take advantage of. Erica McCurdy, a life and business coach in Norcross, Georgia, says the last time she called her auto insurance provider, she learned about an online defensive driving course she could take that would reduce her rates. She paid $20 to take it at home one night, and it lowered her annual insurance bill by $248.
Previously, McCurdy discovered she was paying $6 a month for roadside assistance through her insurance company in addition to paying for the same service through the AAA. So she contacted her insurance agent and dropped roadside service on her auto policy, yielding a savings of $72 a year.
“Those two phone calls will save me $300 in the next year,” she says. “Well worth the 15 minutes I spent calling to check on my policies.”
Be polite. Gross suggests using the representative’s name several times during the conversation. “It helps to build rapport and get them on your side,” Gross says.
And use your inside voice.
Holly Perez, spokeswoman for the personal finance site Mint.com, agrees. “Would you feel like giving the hookup [for a deal] to someone screaming about how horrible your English skills are? Didn’t think so.”
If you’re a good customer, use that leverage. This can be especially helpful with getting interest rates lowered on credit cards and annual fees waived, as well as getting monthly cable and internet bills reduced, Perez says.
While Perez encourages politeness, she says, “We shouldn’t be afraid to pull out all the stops – threatening to close the account or switch to their biggest competitor – when we don’t get what we’re looking for,” she says.
The caveat, industry experts will tell you, is that credit card companies only tend to offer better terms if you aren’t carrying revolving debt.
That’s the case with many companies, credit cards or not, Wolff says.
“Companies often assign a score or grade to each customer, which affects how much they can discount, and payment history is one component of that grade,” Wolff says.
Don’t forget to repeat the process. What goes down must come up, with bills. So it’s important to keep tabs on them.
If you haven’t achieved success during the first go-around, it can’t hurt to ask for a better deal down the line, Perez says.
“It’s not as if we have anything more to lose – they’ve already taken our money,” she says. “And without asking, there’s no incentive for them to give it back.”