Does the thought of haggling over your monthly bills make you break out in a cold sweat? You’re not alone because most people don’t like trying to talk their way into a lower price. 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:
1. Medical Bills
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 HealthCareBluebook.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.
2. 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.
3. 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.
4. DSL Internet Service Bill
Curious to find out how to negotiate internet service? Many consumers get their internet service through their cable company as part of a bundled package that typically offers a discounted rate for a year or two. My household actually gets its internet service through our telephone service provider, AT&T.
When my husband noticed that our rate for our bundled services shot up after what he calls the “bait-and-switch” rate expired, he called our provider and threatened to drop both our internet and landline service. To avoid losing a customer that was paying for two of its services, AT&T lowered our monthly bill by $20 — an annual saving of $240.
The cost of cable, phone and other services might be just a drop in the bucket compared with how much you’re paying each month for housing. Like those services, though, you can negotiate your rent.
According to real estate site Zillow, renters who can demonstrate that they’ll be responsible, reliable tenants because they have a steady job, good credit and plan to stay in an apartment for several years have leverage when it comes to negotiating rent. Also, renters in a market where there’s not as much competition for apartments will have better luck getting landlords to lower their price.
Use a site such as Rentometer.com to find out if your rent is reasonable for your area or whether you’re being overcharged and can negotiate a better deal.
6. School Tuition Bills
“It is a little-known fact that private school tuition rates are rarely set in stone,” writes author Ruth Soukup on her blog Living Well Spending Less. When comparing schools, parents should ask whether their rates can be adjusted — especially if more than one child from the family will be attending, according to Soukup. If the school isn’t willing to budge on its tuition, maybe it will offer a payment plan so you don’t have to pay the entire amount upfront.
Consumers who are behind on their utility bills might be able to negotiate payment plans. However, you typically won’t have much luck negotiating a lower rate for water, gas or electricity from the get-go as you can with services such as cable TV, McNeely said. But that doesn’t mean the only way to lower your utility bills is to resort to cost-saving moves such as setting the thermostat lower in the winter or using a low-flow shower head.
Some utility companies — typically water companies — offer discounted rates at certain times of the day, said McNeely. Check with your local utilities to see if they have off-peak rates. Then, take advantage of them by running the dishwasher, washer and dryer as well as watering your lawn during those times.