As if we aren't shelling out enough dough to handle our monthly bills, we often find ourselves slammed with late fees, annual fees, and interest rate spikes. Sometimes, it's easier to pay up rather than call up customer service and fight what seems like a losing (and very boring) battle.
A new poll by CreditsCards.com shows that 84 percent of people who have asked to have an annual fee or late fee waived, or requested a lower interest rate or higher credit limit, have had their wishes granted by the credit card company.
"People with good credit always tend to get more of the breaks, and it certainly doesn't hurt to have a good long track record with that card issuer, but the success rates we saw were so high that I think it indicates that it's not just folks with sparkling credit," said Matt Schulz, senior analyst at CreditCards.com.
"For example, with a late fee, if it's your first time being late or first time in a long time, it probably won't take a whole lot more than calling up and asking politely if they'll waive the payment," Schulz said. "It's really not a big ask."
And yet so few people seem willing to even go so far as to ask. The survey revealed that only about 1 in 10 cardholders have requested to have an annual credit card fee waived, assuming that it's simply non-negotiable.
Cardholders are more likely to ask for a credit raise (28 percent), as well as to request the removal of a late fee (25 percent), and ask for a lower interest rate (19 percent). It's still not as many Schulz would expect.
"I am surprised that so few people take the chance to ask," said Schulz. "Not everything, but many things, with your credit card are actually negotiable, but people don't ask because they don't think their chances are good. Yet time and again we've seen that the odds are in their favor."
"I've been able to get an annual fee waived entirely for a year by asking," noted Schulz. "I've also had it where I asked to have it eliminated entirely and they counter-offered me with a slightly less premium version of the card I have with a lower annual fee."
Sometimes you can make a deal. Schulz recalls one time he had an annual fee waived for a card that touted one particular perk he liked, but one he didn't feel was worth the $95 annual fee.
"I told the bank exactly that and they said that if I agreed to make purchases of $95 — the amount of the annual fee — in the next month, they would waive the annual fee," said Schulz. "So, I took them up on the offer. It was money I would have spent anyway."
You may be asking, "But wait, what's in it for the bank to be so generous?" Consider that most of the time, a $25 late fee, for instance, is chump change compared to your continued business with them.
"That's the cost of customer service to a degree," said Schulz, adding that it helps to go into the call with a bit of knowledge about other competitive offers.
"When asking for an interest rate being reduced, your best move is to go in with a little bit of ammunition in the form of other offers you've seen or received," said Schulz. "Look at what comes in the mail, have an idea of what other offers you can qualify for, and then use that information to set the terms of the negotiation. If they're not willing to work with you, you can always choose to walk away and take that other offer."
You can apply the power of asking to just about any company that imposes late or annual fees — especially if the marketplace is competitive. Think gym memberships, cable companies, and cell phone service providers.
"You can haggle over virtually anything in a competitive space," said Schulz.
Simone Gorrindo, an editor, talked AT&T out of roughly $400 in data surcharges.
"My family moved across country and my husband and I both used quite a bit of data while staying in a hotel and driving cross country," said Gorrindo. "Once you go over [your plan limit], it really starts to add up like crazy. I called AT&T and told them, 'I've been with you for five years so I'm wondering if you might be able to help me out.' They were super nice and reversed all [the charges]."
Gorrindo added that after explaining and apologizing, she wound up accepting the offer of a plan with unlimited data for a lower price.
That said, Gorrindo did have to patiently decline a slew of other offers the company tried to sell her.
"I just kept politely saying 'no,'" she said.
Though the poll indicated that not many people bother to question fees, those who do ask tend to do it regularly and with a certain finesse.
"I'm the king of waiving late fees," said Aury Reyes, a customer service specialist. "There is an art to it: Write down the specifics of which department and what person you're talking to, know the guidelines of your policy with your chosen companies (most companies will waive your first late fee), and being polite rather than difficult always helps."
Alaina Leary, a writer, also claims to be a "master" at getting fees eliminated.
"I've negotiated out of almost every annual or late fee I've ever had, plus[phone activation] fees," said Leary. "My trick is to start at the beginning by [stating that] I won't get a new phone plan unless waiving the fee is an option. If I have trouble getting a fee removed, I ask for a supervisor until I find a supervisor who can and will remove it."
Like Reyes, Leary recommends asking for the name of every person you speak with and being consistently polite, but also firm.
Will many are dissuaded from asking to get out of a fee because they think it's hopeless; others may not ask because they don't even realize the fee is occurring. Consider it a casualty of an increasingly paperless world, and one where we're often signing up for free trials without paying much attention.
Ryan Sullivan, an attorney providing bankruptcy and consumer debt services, says that when reviewing a client's financial statements, it's not unusual to find a charge they weren't even aware of.
"There may be a Planet Fitness or Netflix membership they haven't used in years that is still taking from their accounts, or a free trial that expired and is now charging," said Sullivan.
"Technology has made it easier for us to be less cognizant of every little payment we're being charged," he added. "When reviewing a physical statement and writing out a check, you're more likely to notice what I call 'parasite charges'."
This could play a part in another of CreditCards.com findings: that boomers aged 53 to 62 had the most success in getting fees waived or reduced when compared to younger generations. Schulz points out that boomers have longer credit histories, and may be perceived as less risky than millennials who are just starting lines of credit, but Sullivan wonders if their old school habit of studying a paper statement isn't also helping them get a leg up.
"Boomers still get actual paper statements, having grown up in a time where you physically reviewed these things every month," said Sullivan. "They may be more aware of the fees they're being charged than millennials who simply get a pop-up on an app."