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The pandemic negatively impacted consumers wallets in a myriad of ways. Credit card issuers responded to people's changing spending habits and new financial constraints by offering higher rewards rates on certain spending categories or reducing the annual fee on select cards. While some banks were proactive in this area, many have asked their credit card issuers for better terms on their cards.
A recent LendingTree report found that of the 47% who asked for better terms on their credit cards, the majority had cited the pandemic as their biggest reason for doing so. Asking for different terms on your credit card can be anything from requesting a waived or reduced annual fee, a lower APR, a larger credit line or a larger sign-up bonus.
When you do decide to ask, it's best to make a phone call to customer service.
John Ulzheimer, a credit expert formerly of FICO and Equifax, distinguishes between the different types of requests that cardholders make to card issuers as being either a risk assessment issue or a marketing issue.
Ulzheimer describes marketing issues as requests for a larger welcome bonus or a reduced (or waived) annual fee. Credit card issuers are more open to fulfilling these small requests because they want to keep you on as a customer.
Some card issuers, like American Express, are known to be more responsive to requests. Amex has its own retention offer department that you may get transferred to when you call. According to a 2020 JD Power Credit Card Satisfaction study, Amex ranked highest in customer satisfaction among national card issuers.
Brendan Dorsey, a Select editor, and Brett Holzhauer, a Select reporter, each managed to score retention offers by calling or messaging Amex customer service.
Holzhauer was able to get a better interest rate and a bonus offer, which required a certain amount of spending within a window of time, on his Blue Business® Plus Credit Card from American Express in June 2020.
4X Membership Rewards® points at Restaurants (plus takeout and delivery in the U.S.) and at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X), 3X points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com, 1X points on all other purchases
Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases within the first 6 months of card membership
17.49% - 24.49% variable
Balance transfer fee
Foreign transaction fee
See rates and fees, terms apply.
"I asked if there was any way they could waive the annual fee on my credit cards. I mentioned that it was hard to justify paying so much in annual fees for travel credit cards during a period of restricted travel because of Covid-19," Dorsey said.
Dorsey managed to earn 30,000 Membership Rewards points on his Platinum Card, 10,000 Membership Rewards points on his Gold Card and 10,000 Hilton Honors points on his Aspire card without having to meet any spending requirements. He notes that he's been able to get similar retention offers in non-pandemic years as well.
Matt Schulz, Chief Credit Analyst at LendingTree, emphasizes that regardless of whether there's a pandemic or not, there are still relatively high rates of success when it comes to requesting better terms on your card.
"We're having really high success rates when it comes to asking for lower APR or waived fees," Schulz said. "This isn't just a function of the pandemic."
Ulzheimer suggests that people keep their expectations reasonable when making bigger requests, which he describes as risk assessment issues. This includes asking for a significantly lower APR or a much higher credit limit.
These requests typically require card issuers to do a hard inquiry into your credit report, which can result in a slight drop in your credit score. If you're planning on applying for a mortgage or purchasing a car anytime soon, you might want to hold off on these requests because of the drop it will cause in your credit score.
Schulz says that people don't negotiate because they often don't know that they can. The LendingTree study found that 28% of those who said they don't ask for different terms on their credit cards didn't know they could.
"A lot of people just don't know that they can [negotiate]. There's also a big group of folks who don't like negotiation and don't like confrontation and don't pick up the phone, just because they're scared to do so. It's understandable because trying to negotiate against a giant, behemoth financial institution can be intimidating," Schulz said. "But the truth is, people need to realize that they have more power in their relationships with their credit card issuers…"
Regardless of whether you're asking for something small from your issuer, like a reduction of your annual fee or a larger request, like a doubling of your credit limit, you have nothing to lose by picking up the phone and talking to your bank. Doing so could end up saving you real money and the worst they could say is 'no'.
For rates and fees of the American Express Gold Card, click here.
Information about the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card has been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the card prior to publication.
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