Transferring your credit-card balance to get a lower interest rate probably seems like a great idea -- until you see the transfer fee.
With a typical fee of 3 percent, a $20,000 transfer will cost you $600.
But don't get discouraged. You might be able to negotiate that fee down.
"It's definitely possible," says Scott Bilker, author of "Talk Your Way Out of Credit Card Debt." "I've done it myself."
"People know you have to bargain for car prices, but they don't think you can negotiate everything with a credit card. Consumers can win because there is competition.
"I would call and say, 'I'd love to take advantage of the balance transfer offer, but the fee is just too much.'"
Call versus click
When you get an online balance transfer offer, you're just starting the process. Always call to see if there's something better.
Ask what other offers are available. Ask about the fees for each one, and take careful notes. Sometimes, a 2.9 percent offer will have an uncapped fee, and another at 3.9 percent will be capped at $75.
Don't sound too enthused about any offer. Ask if they have anything better. A supervisor may indeed be able to offer you a better deal.
And there's one other thing to keep in mind: Next week, a zero-percent offer may be introduced. Make sure you find out when new transfer offers might be available.
Of course, before you pick up the phone, do some online research.
"You can always do comparison shopping and read the fine print online," says Jing Xiao, professor of consumer economics at the University of Rhode Island. "You have to be aware of the new trends."
It pays to keep track of the latest traps and tricks, he says, even if it's a card you've had for a long time.
"Now, some companies have removed the cap on the transfer fee," Xiao explains.
Fees of 4 percent or even a whopping 5 percent, with no cap at all, are becoming more common.
What to say when negotiating
Once you know the offers, start trying to get rid of that fee.
"I'd start with a request to waive the whole fee," says Bilker. "Chances are, in today's climate, it will be difficult to do that," but it's still worth a try.
Mention points like your many years of loyalty to the company and your record of on-time payments.
If you're a heavy charger, bring up how much business you were worth last year, as the company gets a percentage of every purchase.
But if you haven't used a card in a while, that may work in your favor, too, because the bank will want to lure you back.
And remember that you always have something to offer: If the bank makes 4.99 percent off you, that's still better than zero, which is what they're getting if you don't switch your debt.
Next, if the fee-waiver request is denied, try to get the fee capped at something you think is reasonable -- say $50, or even $100, which is a lot better than 3 percent of a huge balance.