By Cameron Huddleston
Does the thought of haggling over your monthly bills make you break out in a cold sweat? You’re not alone. A 2013 Consumer Reports survey found that less than half of consumers had tried negotiating a better deal on everyday goods and services in the past three years. But if you can get over your fear of negotiating, you’ll see the payoff in your pocketbook, especially when it comes to bills that you pay regularly or even occasionally.
Tai McNeely, a money-saving expert and founder of the His & Her Money blog, said she frequently negotiates with service providers to get a better rate. She’s successful nine out of 10 times. “I don’t have a problem with calling and asking for a discount because they budget for this stuff,” she said. “If you don’t use it, someone else will.”
Find out how to negotiate bills down to a more affordable cost:
A pricey medical procedure can be a big blow to your budget, especially if your insurance policy has a high deductible or your insurer denies your claim. But you shouldn’t assume that you’re on the hook for the full amount you’re being asked to pay. “If you know what the going rate for a procedure is, you can always negotiate,” said Adria Gross, CEO of MedWise Insurance Advocacy, which helps people navigate the medical claims system.
You can use free online source HealthCareBluebbok.com to look up the reasonable amount you should expect to pay for a medical procedure, test or service in your area. Or, visit FairHealthConsumer.org, and use the consumer cost look-up tool to get cost estimates of medical and dental services in your area. This information can help you determine whether you’re being charged more than the estimated cost, giving you a starting point for negotiations.
Offering to pay with cash, rather than credit, is another good way to get a discount of at least 10 percent to 50 percent, Gross said. She recently got a medical bill for a client reduced by 75 percent by using this strategy.
McNeely said that by taking the time to understand what her insurance plan will and will not pay for has helped her dispute charges and avoid overpaying for medical care. “You have to know your rights and what is covered,” she said.
WIRELESS PHONE SERVICE BILL
Whenever McNeely signs up for wireless phone service, she never expects to pay the price advertised by a provider. She researches what other wireless providers are offering, then uses that information to negotiate a lower price with the provider she wants. “A lot of times, they have flexibility to offer you a better package because they know you can go to their rivals,” McNeely said.
Make sure you research at least three competitors’ prices and have their websites open when you make your call so you can quickly reference their rates, she said. According to the Consumer Reports survey, half of the consumers who negotiated their cellphone plans saved $100 or more.
CABLE OR SATELLITE TV BILL
You likely got a special promotional rate when you signed up for cable or satellite TV service. But after that promotional period is up after a year or so, the cable company is banking on you not noticing that your rate has jumped, McNeely said. That doesn’t mean you’re locked into paying a bigger bill, however.
Call the cable company, and let it know that you’re considering switching providers or dropping your service if it won’t lower your rate. Also, cite a competitor’s offer. With more and more people cutting the cord and opting for online and pay-as-you-go services, cable companies “want to keep your business, and they’ll do whatever it takes,” McNeely said. She typically gets her cable provider to lower her rate back to within $5 to $10 of the introductory rate and throw in a freebie, such as a premium channel.
McNeely schedules a calendar reminder on her smartphone to alert her one month before her rate is due to increase so she can call the cable company and start negotiating. To avoid getting stuck on hold, she always presses the key during the menu options that corresponds to the “change or cancel your service” option. “They won’t leave you on hold because they don’t want to lose you,” she said.
She also negotiates a discount whenever there are problems with her service, such as an outage. She recently got $25 knocked off her bill when she lodged a complaint.
Cameron Huddleston writes for GOBankingRates.com, a leading portal for personal finance news and features, offering visitors the latest information on everything from interest rates to strategies on saving money, managing a budget and getting out of debt.