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Why You Can (and SHOULD) Negotiate EVERYTHING

People think that whenever they get a bill from any official looking source, it’s set in stone. It’s not. No bill is. Never assume you’re stuck with what you’re offered the first time! It’s your money they’re looking to squeeze. Why not fight for it?

Whether it’s a medical bill, phone/cable plan, utility payment, or car lease, you should always ask for a better rate. You have nothing to lose but a little time. The worst thing they can say is no (and they usually won’t.) If just thinking about talking back makes you sweat like I used to, remember: all it takes is a little prep, and a little chutzpah. Read on for some tips on negotiating, along with a couple scripts you can steal or adapt to fit your situation!

Conquer debt collectors.

Approximately 30 million Americans have at least one debt in collection. That means lots of people are getting debt collection calls all the time. And they are dealing with it, and living through it. Is talking to a debt collector uncomfortable? Yes. But should you be filled with fear when the phone rings? No. Be brave and fight for your money! As a consumer (even one with poor credit) you have rights. You can and will get out from under their thumb, but first you have to face them.

Buying a car.

Do your research to figure out exactly what you want and what you should be spending. Request online quotes from multiple dealerships; then, when you get to the lot, expect a conversation like this:

Dealer: We have several models that will appeal to you.

You: Thanks, but I am just looking for the 2017 in blue. It goes for $17,500, yes?

Dealer: This model has a ton of added features and goes for $24,500.

You: No, I only need the basic features. I’d like the $17,500 sticker price.

Be prepared to haggle back and forth, but don’t go over a number you can actually afford—and factor in the cost of insurance and maintenance too. The salesperson likely gets commission and would rather make a sale than have you walk away. But if he won’t budge, leave, because another salesperson will close the deal.

Get a better credit card rate.

Who says you can’t negotiate credit card rates? You can and should— especially if your interest rate is higher than average. Call and remind them of your punctuality and how loyal you’ve been, then hint that you’re thinking of closing your card due to high interest. Some places will lower the rate to keep you.

Asking for a raise.

This is a super-important conversation, and nobody’s going to start it but you. It’s tempting to send an email, but this has to be face-to-face. Set up a meeting with your boss and go into it with proof of how your accomplishments have helped the company.
Outline the salary bump you want, then prepare to negotiate a plan B:

Your boss: Sadly, budgets have just been slashed and we can’t give you that money.

You: Instead of a monetary raise, I’d like more paid time off (or a higher title, larger expense account, reimbursed phone bill, you get it).

Your boss: No, I can’t do that right now.

You: I appreciate your time. Do you have feedback for how I can grow here?

Then consider whether this is a company you want to stay with. Sometimes the best way to earn more money is to find a new job.

Lowering your bills.

The key to handling your standard phone/cable/internet companies is to talk about leaving the provider and going to their competitor. I’ve done this with all of my major bills at some point and have been successful more often than not. Try to haggle with your bill collectors at least twice a year. First, I promise it will become fun and addictive. Second, if you aren’t successful in negotiating, you want to make sure you’re in the right plan for you. Are you still bundling with a landline and not using one? Ditch it. Still have that international phone plan tacked on when you haven’t traveled in months? Whoops. Always good to get on the latest or most correct/appropriate plan for you. Remind your provider that you’ve been a good customer but that your friends have better rates elsewhere so you’re thinking of canceling.
Ask, “Is there anything you can do for me?”

You: My rate is too high for me.

Customer service rep: I’m seeing that it’s the current fee for the plan you have.

You: Yes, but if I switch to another provider, I’ll get a better deal for the year.

Customer service rep: I could give you the starter discount for one month, but then you’ll have to go back up.

You: Could I get additional channels, then, for the year?

You might not get a big W every time you try this, but even a little win every once in awhile is better than nothing. Don’t be shy: These are phone conversations, so you never even have to see the people you’re playing hardball with!

Bringing down your utility bills.

As for your utility bills, negotiating them isn’t exactly the same as it is with your phone and cable bills. It’s not like the electric company is going to give you a lower rate. But, like most things in life, it’s not that simple. Some utility companies might offer discounts if you agree to participate in energy conservation programs, such as allowing the company to cycle your air conditioning off for brief periods during high-demand times, or allowing them to install a more efficient thermostat in your home. If you live in a house and pay for heating oil, you might be able to lower, or at least normalize, your monthly bill by asking for even billing. So instead of forking over huge amounts of dough during the winter, and never knowing how much until the oil guy makes a delivery, you can pay a fixed amount every month throughout the year (yes, it sucks to pay for heating oil in July, but it’s a good trade-off for not getting a heart attack–inducing bill in January). You might not be able to shave any money off the bill, but you can always negotiate a better deal for yourself. If you get refusals, well, you’re no worse off—and you’ve learned that it’s not painful to try.

Master your medical bills.

Even if you have all the money in the world, get an itemized hospital bill so you can see exactly where the charges come from. Don’t be on the hook for an $800 X-ray that you never even had! (Eighty percent of medical bills contain errors, so you’d be foolish not to check for bogus charges.) The hospital knows from the outset that there is a small chance they’ll never recover the full (and typically outrageous) amount from you, so with a little pushback (okay, sometimes a lot) they’ll take what they can get. Look around online to find the fair market price for a procedure or treatment before you pay a cent; average costs vary based on region or even city, so you should know what you’re getting into. Then call your healthcare provider and plead your case openly and honestly, offering to work within a payment plan or pay a reduced rate in cash, if possible. If they think they have a better chance collecting 75% of the total cost than 100% of the total cost, they’ll likely work with you to make that reduced rate happen. And this should go without saying, but start negotiating before the bill is due; the provider will be much more accommodating if the bill is still active, not late. After all, siccing the bill collectors on you is not only annoying for you but costly for them, too.

Negotiation is one of the best financial skills you can have, and it gets easier the more you do it. Congratulations, power negotiator!

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