It Pays to Call and Ask

by Carrie Kirby on 6 December 2007 2 comments
Photo: vickits

All you have to do is ask. Whether it's getting a fair shake from a business that treated you badly or getting a little extra, picking up the phone or sending an e-mail so often pays off. But here's the thing to remember: Sometimes you have to ask more than once. If the answer is no the first or second time, try again. Ask for a manager. Hang up and try a different operator. Ask about the appeals process. Write a demand letter threatening legal action. If you are in the right, you should eventually get what you deserve.

Here are five examples of how speaking up has saved me money this year alone.

 1) Credit card fees.

It's nice to have a credit card that pays miles or cash back, but the $50 annual fee most of these cards require detract from the value. In the past, it was pretty easy to get this fee waived by calling the company as soon as you saw the $50 show up on your annual statement. However, for the past two years I have had to work a little harder. The first person I spoke to said the fee could not be waived. It was not until I said, "OK, then please cancel my account" that I was transferred to a "retention specialist" who offered either to give us a voucher for a free flight or waive the fee. Personally, I think the fee waiver is a better deal since the vouchers usually have a minimum purchase price and other limitations that can make using them more expensive than taking a cheap flight.

Sometimes, you can cut the charade by just calling up and asking to speak to a retention specialist right away.

2) Buying a home.

There are obviously whole books written about how to get the best deal on a home, but one little tidbit here: Do not close the deal without asking for one more thing. Especially in this slow market.

We had negotiated hard on the sale of our home. We got the price down significantly on the condition that we not nickel and dime the sellers on the inspection. But when the inspection came back, there were significant expensive repairs that, while not emergencies, we'd want to make right away. Our agent advised us that after coming down so much on the price, the sellers were not likely to give us anything back for the repairs.

We asked anyway.

They turned down our request for them to split the cost, so I said, "OK, give us $1,000 toward the repairs and we'll close this deal today."

They did, and we did. I'm typing this from my cozy new home.

3) Home warranty.

Our sellers gave us a home warranty on the old house we bought. Some people think home warranties aren't worth much, because they have called them and been told the repair needed wasn't covered. However, it's my experience that if you keep on the company day after day, they may relent and make the repair.

Within the first few months, we had a clogged sink line. We called the home warranty company to send a plumber, and they did. The next day, water started flowing out of a hole in our basement floor, near the pipe that had just been rodded out. Yikes.

We called the home warranty company and reported the damage. They sent out the same plumber, who said they were not responsible for the leak and that the home warranty company didn't cover it because the pipe ran outside the perimeter of our home.

I called a local plumber and asked their opinion. They said the pipe stayed inside the four walls of our house.

I called the home warranty company back and got them to send a different plumber out. With this company, this second opinion process is a gamble. If the new service person says it's covered, you pay nothing, but if they say it's not, you pay the standard $55 visit fee but get nothing done.

It turned out the new plumber didn't do the work we needed. So the warranty company sent a third plumber, who said it was covered and fixed it. It would have been a $1,000 to $2,000 repair. Later, the same plumber returned to my house for yet another clogged drain and told me that technically, the warranty company shouldn't have covered the big repair! But I certainly didn't feel guilty if they made a mistake. I was completely honest with them the whole time, and persistence is not a crime!

4) Billing mistakes

I noticed that my cell phone bill included a charge for roadside assistance, which I had never ordered. Then I looked at some old bills and realized I had been charged for roadside assistance for a year!

I called the company and, despite cell phone providers' reputation for lousy service, was able to get the charge removed retroactively for the whole year. Then I found the same thing had happened on my husband's bill. When I called back, at first the agent only wanted to credit me one month's payment. But I insisted, and he went back and refunded all the payments.

5) Security deposit

OK, I haven't accomplished this one yet, but I will. When we moved out of our apartment to our new home, we gave our landlords our forwarding address "for the security deposit." Months passed and we received nothing, so we called and left them several messages. We emailed. Finally I wrote and mailed a demand letter. Again, we've heard nothing, so I'm going to have to send another copy of the letter certified mail. After that, according to Illinois Legal Aid, I'll have to file a legal complaint about this.

Editorial Note: Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer.

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Guest's picture

I want to add to your great list by noting that because of competition for voice calling among cell, Internet, and landline providers; phone number portability; the convergence of broadband, voice, and TV; and, finally, satellite TV as an alternative to cable, you can really get some amazing deals if you just ask for them or threaten to leave.

Cell carriers are changing their termination fees, with some now pro-rating them. So instead of having to pay $175 to $250 if you leave within any two-year period, it might be $25 to $100. A new carrier will often agree (in writing) to pick up your previous carrier's termination fee, and will sometimes pay you a bonus.

A year ago I was testing a T-Mobile phone system for a newspaper review (T-Mobile wasn't providing writers with review units at that time). I bought it on my own dime and returned it within the 14-day rescission period.

The manager at the T-Mobile kiosk kept offering me more and more stuff to keep the service: two $200 credits for the two lines my wife and I had at Cingular we'd have to pay fees on; $100 if we stayed customers for 90 days credited to our bill; plus the free phone and router that were part of the T-Mobile deal already. I asked if he'd put it in writing, and he said yes. I still declined, but it was remarkable.

For TV services, you can often play one off the other. When I called to cancel my cable TV (in favor of satellite), they were persistent at offering tons of discounts, including a cheaper rate for an entire year -- it would have meant hundreds of dollars off my bill. (The satellite service, by contrast, offered free dish and installation, three months' discount on monthly charges, and a $50 (with rebate) DVR--effectively $0.00 to switch from cable, and I was paying $10 less per month for more service and a better picture.)

Finally, with broadband, if you're in a market that's competitive, where a phone company, a cable company, and sometimes a firm like Clearwire all offer broadband, you can often call and threaten to switch and get a large discount. AT&T has these one-year, $15 a month plans for new subscribers that they will often extend, if you threaten cancellation, to existing ones.

Finally, I had the most remarkable credit card experience. I had a large balance at low interest and stupidly failed to pay one month. The interest rate went to 19% and I had hundreds in extra fees. I immediately transferred the balance via a home equity line of credit (higher interest than the original credit card deal, but not much higher). I called the company to cancel the card, and a retention expert offered me a full point lower than my previous deal (3% instead of 4%), and a waiver of the full month's interest. Done. (I put myself on the automatic payment plan via their Web site, too, so I never miss a payment.)

Nora Dunn's picture

I remember when my contract ended with a cell phone carrier I had, I did a little shopping around for different carriers and plans. I then called my company and said that now that the contract was up, I noticed I could get better deals elsewhere, and was there anything they could do to retain my business. (I said it in an entirely friendly way, non-confrontational).

Wouldn't you know it, they gave me a new phone, and cut my costs almost in half! I of course had to sign another 12 month contract, but it was well worth it in the end.

All it took was a phone call!