5 Ways to Defend Yourself Against Financial Bullies

If there’s one thing that news anchor and personal finance author Nicole Lapin believes it’s that everything financial, from bills to rate plans, can be negotiated.

“People think that when they get a bill from a hospital, or any official-looking source for that matter, it’s set in stone,” she said. “It’s not. No bill is.”

“Just remember this every time you open up a bill: It’s your money they’re looking to squeeze. So fight for it,” she continued. “I’m a big advocate of negotiating. All it takes is a little guts.”

Lapin, author of “The Rich Bitch Guide to Love and Money,” is one of the nominees in the GOBankingRates 2015 Best Money Expert competition presented in collaboration with Ally Bank. Master her tactics to avoid being financially bullied and to save on your expenses in 2016.

Negotiate Bills and Plans

Lapin said utilities, medical bills and cable plans are a few examples of the kinds of expenses for which you can negotiate a lower payment.

“Before the new year is underway, call all of your providers and ask for a better rate,” she said. “It’s the best way to start a financially fabulous new year.”

Here are other recurring and longer-term expenses that can be up for negotiation.

1. Apartment Rent

Many renters assume that they’re at the mercy of their landlords regarding monthly rent hikes. Or they might think that living in a rent-controlled unit is a better deal than they could get otherwise.

These assumptions might be incorrect. Quiet, tidy, respectful tenants who pay their rent on time every month are in the best spot to negotiate for a lower rate. The best time to approach a landlord can be when a lease is about to expire. It’s typically more beneficial for the landlord to keep you than to put in the time and money necessary to find a new tenant.

2. Auto Insurance Premiums

Your car insurance rate depends on many factors, including your age, gender, driving record and make and model of your automobile. Even so, you can still ask your insurer for a lower rate.

Many insurance companies offer discounts if your month-to-month mileage is consistently low or if you’ve driven without a traffic accident or violation for a period of time. If you have a high school or college student on your policy, ask whether your company offers discounts for good grades.

3. Vacation Expenses

You might have a hard time negotiating the fixed rates of big-name hotels. So, if you find that hotels won’t budge on their rates, ask for an upgrade.

Also, consider staying instead at independently owned bed-and-breakfast inns or at Airbnb rentals. The owners of these properties might be more flexible with their rates, so haggling with them should not be overlooked as an option.

4. Credit Card Rates

If you’ve been a diligent, faithful customer who pays balances on time, then explaining your excellent history to your credit card provider can go a long way in negotiating for a lower interest rate. Remind the customer service representative that you’ve been a loyal cardholder.

To improve your chances, say that you’ve found a better annual percentage rate offer and you’re considering switching accounts. To keep you as a customer, your card issuer might grant you a lower rate.

5. Medical Bills

You might not find out how much a medical procedure or treatment cost until months after you received it. Don’t assume that the bill is set in stone. Medical advocates say consumers should first review the statement for billing errors.

Ask for an itemized bill if you weren’t given one, and assess each charge. Then negotiate with hospitals, doctors and other providers to lower the bill. Some might agree to a lower amount if you pay the bill in full.

Related: How to Improve Your Credit Score by Negotiating With Creditors

For some people, it takes courage to negotiate for lower bills or rates, but Lapin said it’s important to keep in mind that it’s your money. Until that cash has changed hands, you have some leverage in attempting to get a better deal, so negotiate with confidence.

Don’t worry about being judged or rejected. “You have nothing to lose but a little time,” said Lapin. “The worst thing they can say is no. And they usually won’t.”

To maximize your chances for success, avoid being confrontational, hostile or argumentative. You’re not owed a lower rate, but you can assert why you deserve one. Remain polite and friendly. Remember that negotiation is an art and a skill that you can continue to refine in 2016 and beyond.