smart spending

5 phone calls that can save lots of money

5 phone calls that save lots of money
5 phone calls that save lots of money

If you're looking for a little extra money this month, forget the sofa cushions. The answer might be in your phone.

From getting better rates on existing services to dickering over those great promotional deals, making the right call can save you a nice chunk of change.

Best of all, since you're often looking at long-term, repeat savings -- accumulating over months or years -- it's the gift that keeps on giving to your wallet.

So before you search your old jacket pockets or raid that kitchen cookie jar for extra funds, here are five phone calls to try.

The call: Request a better deal on a service
The call: Request a better deal on a service

How would you like to knock almost $900 a year off your cable TV bill?

In one instance, it took just one phone call, says Linda Sherry, director of national priorities for Consumer Action. The question she asked was simple: Do you have any deals or promotions at a better rate?

After digging around, the rep came up with a deal that would lower her bill from $130 to $58 -- all while still giving Sherry the channels she wanted.

Sherry later had the same conversation with her Internet provider when her original promotional rate expired. So instead of an increase to $50 a month, she got a rate of $30 a month.

The call: Talk to the disconnection department
The call: Talk to the disconnection department

For deals on existing services like television, phone and Internet providers, sometimes the customer service department isn't the best option, says Lynnette Khalfani-Cox, author of "Zero Debt: The Ultimate Guide to Financial Freedom" and founder of AskTheMoneyCoach.com. Customer service lines often deal primarily with new customers, she says.

Her tip: Call the cancellation department, and say you've been a customer for a number of years and need a better rate, says Khalfani-Cox. When they realize you're ready to jump, "They start moving heaven and earth to give you a better deal," she says.

Sherry has had success with this strategy. After her data carrier was ready to charge her for a replacement modem, she called the retention department and explained that modems, which wear out, are the devices that deliver the company's product to her home. She had never been asked to pay for it before, so why should she have to now?

The carrier's rep agreed, and she received a free modem. "In general, it pays to ask," Sherry says. "The worst thing you're going to get is a 'no,' and you could get something quite valuable."

The call: Review your insurance
The call: Review your insurance

Got a birthday, wedding or graduation coming up? You might be entitled to a better rate on insurance.

Khalfani-Cox remembers counseling a new bride who mentioned that she and her husband had separate auto insurance policies. Putting two cars on one policy netted a multipolicy discount worth $93 a month, Khalfani-Cox says.

You don't have to have more than one car to reap the benefit, she says. A multipolicy discount can arise from a combination of auto policy with a homeowners, contents or umbrella policy.

You can get insurance discounts for other things, such as taking a safe-driving course, sending a child to college, or adding safety equipment to your home, such as motion sensors for a pool.

The call: Demand better services from your bank
The call: Demand better services from your bank

Do you have no- or low-interest checking, or a savings account with a minuscule return? You could get it bumped up with a simple phone call.

Sherry discovered this by accident. While on the phone with her bank for another matter, the service rep asked if she would like a better rate on her savings. Turns out that another type of account with identical terms (no charges, no minimum balance), offered slightly higher interest.

In the same call, she wrangled improvements to her checking account -- a small interest rate, with no additional fees, and no minimum balance.

"Basically I think that if you're a good customer who pays on time, you can call up and press these issues anytime," she says.

The call: Dismiss a fee -- or erase a demerit
The call: Dismiss a fee -- or erase a demerit

Everyone screws up once in a while. You might get a do-over if the bank hits you with a one-time penalty.

Call the bank or card issuer and admit your mistake, point out that you're not a regular offender, and say that you "would appreciate it if they would waive the fee," says John Ulzheimer, president of consumer education for SmartCredit.com. But "if you're late all the time, you might as well save the phone call because it's not going to work," he says.

Has your error already made it onto your credit report? Ask for a "good-will deletion," Ulzheimer says.

This is a remedy for a one-time bad mark that has recently appeared on your credit report -- something along the lines of a late payment, he says. Just make sure it's only 30 days late, not 60.

Generally, it's the same script as asking for a fee to be waived: This is a one-time error, you're a good customer and you're just asking for a favor, he says. It won't always succeed, but it's worth the attempt. Ulzheimer says it "actually may save you big bucks because it could help you qualify for a loan at a lower rate."

 

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