Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Speak Up!

Tip #104 - Speak Up! In today’s world, we can do so many things online – bank, pay bills, buy things, etc. – that we can avoid interacting with a person for a long time if we really want to. And the more people I encounter online, the more I find out that a lot of people prefer not to have to speak to someone – either on the telephone or in person. However, because you establish a relationship with people when you talk to them in person or on the telephone or even just because you ask, you can often get what it is you want, and if what you want is money, then it is worth speaking up.

Sometimes all it takes is to ask for something, and a person will get it for you. Other times it may take some persistence on your part to get what you want. Suppose, you receive a $35 bounced check fee from your bank and you have never bounced a check before. You are upset with yourself for not being careful with your balance and you go ahead and pay the fee, resolving to never do it again. However, did you know you could call the bank and ask them to remove the fee, especially if it is your first time bouncing a check or if it has been a long time since you bounced one? You can, and it often doesn’t take much more than asking for it. How about a finance charge you get on your credit card statement? You usually pay off your bills like clockwork but things got crazy this month – someone got sick, you were away visiting your family, and your husband was on a business trip – so you forgot to pay the bill. And then you receive a $25 late payment fee. It pays to speak up. Give the credit card company a call and explain what happened. They will look up your account and if they see that you have always been a consistent payer, they will usually forgive you the first time and remove the fee.

How about the insurance bill that came and said you are not covered for something, but you think you should be? Is it worth calling the insurance company over and over again, stating your case? You bet it is. The more people you talk to, the better chance you will have that someone will understand your point and cover the costs.

Even if you are in a store and want to buy a blouse, you can ask for a discount. There is only one left in your size and it is missing a button. Why not ask if you can receive 20% off if you buy it? Other stores sell open box items at a discount. Grocery stores sell bruised fruit at a discount. Oftentimes, the salesclerk will need to get a manager, but she will often give you the discount.

The list goes on, if you booked a cruise vacation in advance and the fees have come down since then, it pays to call and ask for a reduction in your fees. Or if you are buying a house, especially in this market, it is worth it to ask if the seller will split some fees with you or cover or partially cover the cost of fixing something. Or if you were told international calls on your phone bill are 10 cents a minute and they show up on your bill as 25 cents. Don't just pay it because they asked. Speak up.

I know it is not always easy to speak up. I have a hard time with it myself. But if hundreds of dollars are on the line, it is worth it to me. Really, the worst that can happen is the person says “no.” But chances are you will often get the fee removed or get a discount, or get your bill paid for just because you ask.

In Real Life – I do not really like asking for things from people. But if I really believe I deserve something, I will do so. Looking back, I can think of so many instances that I have gotten fees removed or avoiding paying things just because I asked. Like I said, I don't enjoy asking, but if it takes me a 10-minute phone call to have a $35 fee removed, I will do it. I force myself to because it’s worth it to me.

In 2007, when I stopped working my checking account balance fell dramatically and I was still having bills automatically paid from this account. Needless to say, I bounced a check. I called the bank and told them it was my first time (in a long time) bouncing a check and was there anything they could do? They suggested getting a credit card with overdraft protection and they would remove the $35 charge. So that is what I did. Well, last year, I bounced not one check but two on the same day. What got me angry was the balance in the account was about $200 that day. One of the checks was written for $150 and the other for $250. So in reality, only the second check should have bounced, but the transaction was such that the $250 came out of the account first and therefore the $150 check bounced, too. So when I called I was really only going to ask for one of the bounced check fees to be refunded. But then I remembered the overdraft protection credit card I had set up the previous year. I gave them a call, and they told me while yes, I did set up the credit card, the overdraft protection part of it wasn’t set up. I don’t know if it was something I was supposed to do or the bank, but in either case, the man on the other end said, “I’ll set it up for you now and the charges will be removed.” Just like that – I saved $70 in bank fees!

When we were setting up my daughter’s room a few years back, I found a comforter I really liked at Target. We needed two of them since she has two twin beds in her room. The store we went to only had two left. One was nicely folded with the ribbon and product information on it. The other was missing the tie wrapping it up and had no card. We really needed both of them. So we asked if we could get a discount on the unwrapped one. I was hoping the person would give us 10% off. The guy offered 20% off the “open” one. All it took was a bit of nerve and one question and we saved over $10.

Now other cases haven’t been so easy. My daughter who was adopted from China went through extensive blood work when we brought her home – to test for things such as lead, HIV, Hepatitis, etc. that are not uncommon in third-world countries. The testing is pretty typical for international adoptees. So I was surprised when my insurance company would not cover the $900 cost of the tests. I was not only surprised, I was livid! Nearly everyone on the adoption forums said their insurance covered it. I called and spoke to a person, then spoke to a supervisor. Then called again a month later. And again. And again until it got to a point where it was a year after the date of service. Finally, I got so sick of dealing with their staff, that I filled out a form that says I was officially challenging their claim. Well, that’s all it took. A woman called me from the company and I explained the situation. She said she understood it completely and was surprised herself that it wasn’t covered. I got a phone call back from her the following week – the full $900 was going to be taken care of. I will tell you that my blood pressure did rise on several of occasions talking to their customer service trying to get this resolved by I perservered because I was that adamant that this should be covered and it worked out in my favor in the end.

Not every thing you ask for will work out. About a year after my son’s circumcision (done by a trained person in our religion), I found out that some insurance companies cover this type of circumcision. The thought hadn’t even crossed my mind that it may be covered. So I contacted the person who did it and asked for an invoice. We then submitted it to our insurance company. It turns out that because it was “out of network” it would only be partially covered and we had to meet some deductible, which we didn’t meet. But hey, it was worth asking and it wasn’t that much effort.

In fact, out of all of the times I have asked for a discount, for a charge to be removed, or a bill to be covered, I’d guess that 9 times out of 10 I get it. I always ask nicely and explain why I think it should be discounted or refunded and that seems to be all it takes in most cases. Sometimes you may need to ask for a higher-up or be firmer in your request, but as the old saying goes, “it doesn’t hurt to try.” You may save yourself a lot of money.

1 comment:

Newby said...

I have two examples of this.

1) I'm currently trying to get on top of my credit card debt (I know, I know). Anyway, it (was) reasonably modest at $5K and had been necessary at the time for a whole range of reasons. The rate on my card was 13.99% - I rang the bank and asked if they could do a better rate. They immediately dropped the rate to 3.99% for six months. In the one month that I've been focussing on the debt I've paid off $1500 so far, and it makes me happy to know that my hard work won't be going to the higher interest rate and I'll get to my $0 goal quicker.

2) I needed to upgrade my internet plan for more data. I checked the current rates on my telcos website and was surprised to see that the substantially larger package was the same price that I was then paying for the smaller sized bundle. I rang the service centre and they told me that I couldn't move to the advertised plan because it was only for "new" customers. I told them that if they weren't prepared to offer me that deal after my loyal custom for over 10 years then I would move. I did have to escalate it to a supervisor, but I got the advertised deal price PLUS an additional $10 off per month to reward my loyalty.

It definitely pays to ask.