But getting the card companies to say "yes" isn't easy for everyone. Just 36% of customers under age 30 received a rate cut after asking, and one-third of African-American cardholders were successful, the CreditCards.com survey found. Household income and education level did not affect whether a cardholder's request was approved.
What card companies look for
Here are some of the factors that go into a card issuer's decision on whether to approve a rate decrease, according to the U.S. Public Interest Research Group:
- How long you've owned the card.
- The card's credit limit.
- How much you owe on the card relative to the credit limit.
- How much you owe on all cards relative to their credit limits.
- How many times you've made a late payment.
Before you call, check your credit reports, Sullivan says. If all of your credit lines say "pays as agreed," you should have a healthy credit history and are more likely to win approval.
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How to ask for a rate cut
When you call the company, you may want to follow a script similar to this:
Hi, my name is _______. I am a good customer, but I have received several offers in the mail from other credit card companies with lower APRs. I want a lower rate on my card, or I will cancel my card and switch companies.
Of course, how you ask the question doesn't really matter. The decision won't be made based on the customer service representative's opinion of you.
"This is pure business," Sullivan says. "No major credit card company is going to let a customer service rep decide based on whether they think you're a nice person."
Subtle or not-so-subtle threats to open a credit card with another company can pay off, as well.
"I think that many customers don't realize how much power they have," says Beverly Harzog, a credit card expert and author of "The Debt Escape Plan."
But persistence is key, she says. You may not get a "yes" from the first person you speak with – or you may not get the rate cut you're looking for. In that case, ask for a supervisor. You may even want to hang up and call back later.
"Have a rate in mind" when you call, Harzog says. Do your research and learn what kind of interest rates a person with your credit score can qualify for.
Tell the issuer what you want and what you can get from other issuers.
"I think it's a good idea for you to let them compete for your business," Sullivan says. "That's the American way."
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Interest rate cut vs. balance transfer
If you want the rate cut because you have a large balance to pay off, you may be better off opening a new card with a 0% introductory interest rate on balance transfers, Sullivan says.
Opening a new card can have an added positive impact. Having more available unused credit could improve your credit score. Plus, you may then receive an offer from your old company wanting to earn back your business.
"They know where you paid it off from," Sullivan says.