How to Negotiate Your Bills

Negotiation isn’t only useful when buying a car from a dealership or discussing your salary at a new job. Many of your monthly expenses are actually negotiable if you spend some time doing a bit of legwork.

And although spending 20 minutes to an hour on a phone call can feel like a lifetime, the hundreds — if not thousands — of dollars you’ll save by negotiating your bills is time well spent.

Here’s how to save money by negotiating your monthly expenses.

Photo by Emma Matthews

Photo by Emma Matthews

Types of bills you can negotiate

Service providers often set public or nationwide rates that you can find on their marketing materials and website. But chances are that a majority of your providers are willing to work with you on a service package and rate, if it means keeping your business. 

Cell phone service 

Negotiating your cell phone plan is more common than you might expect. But before smooth-talking your service provider, it’s crucial to know how much of usage you’re actually getting through your plan. 

Assess your average monthly usage for voice calls, text messages, and data. This information will help you determine your next steps. Namely, whether to: 1) downgrade your plan, 2) keep your current plan, but ask for a lower rate, or 3) switch to a competitor, if your current provider won’t budge on a better deal.   

Cable subscriptions

Trimming the fat off of your entertainment subscriptions, particularly for cable and satellite TV, is one of the most effective ways to save money. Having access to over 100 networks isn’t doing you much good if you only watch a handful of channels. This is even more true if your favorite shows happen to all be on the same network.

Take note of which channels you absolutely want access to for use in your negotiation later on. While you’re at it, see if paying for à la carte streaming services makes more sense for you. 

Related reading: 7 Useful Services That Are Worth Your Time

Hospital bills

Get help with medical bills by negotiating directly with your doctor’s office or hospital billing department. Insurance companies negotiate rates with providers regularly so this is a common practice in the industry. As a patient, have just as much opportunity to initiate a negotiation.

If your treatment or visit isn’t an emergency, talk to your doctor and explain that paying the full cost of the bill would create a financial hardship. Some providers give considerable discounts if you offer to pay cash upfront for a reduced amount.

Even if your provider isn’t willing to lower the bill, you can still negotiate an extended payment plan so your budget doesn’t go into the red. 

Credit card rates

Still have the very first credit card you opened? Chances are you opened that account when you had a little to no credit, which means your credit card rate was on the high end. If you’ve demonstrated good borrowing habits all along, it’s time to negotiate for the lower interest rate you’ve earned.

Simply asking for a lower rate outright might get you positive results, depending on your account’s status. But if you get some pushback from the representative on the other line, you can lean into a few points to continue the conversation.

Loyalty also goes a long way when it comes to negotiating your interest rate. You’ll want to take notes on how long you’ve been a customer with them and your average monthly spend on the card to build your case.

5 universal steps when negotiating bills

Regardless of what service you’re looking to negotiate, there are a handful of standard steps you’ll need to take on the path to lowering your monthly expenses.

1. Get a refresher on your current terms

It’s important to know where you stand before going into the negotiation ring. You might’ve signed up for the service or account years ago so the details of your terms aren’t top of mind. Take a few minutes to review your existing contract, including pricing, the scope of services included and other details like cancellation policies.

2. Research competitors

Alluding to competitor offers in your negotiation is a popular tactic to sway your service provider. Reach out to promotional offers and incentives from other companies to see if they have a better package for your needs.

Write your research down where it’s handy so you have detailed information to present to your current provider during the call.

3. Always be polite

Negotiation can be nerve-wracking and not everyone on the other line is willing to help. Regardless of the situation, remain calm and polite during your interaction. And remember, a smile can be heard through the phone.

Being nice goes a long way in encouraging service provider representatives to help you find an acceptable resolution. 

4. Reach out to your provider

This is the moment of truth! By this point, you’ve done all of your homework — revisiting your contract and comparing offers from competitors. Contact your service provider’s primary customer service line or their customer retention department. 

During the call, don’t go into defense mode just yet. Instead, start off by simply asking for what you want. For example, if you’re looking to reduce your credit card rate, you can say:

“Hi, I’m calling to see what you can do to lower my interest rate.”

If the representative doesn’t immediately offer you a lower rate or hesitates, you can move forward with your case:

“I see. As much as I really enjoy using the card, the interest rate is simply too high for me. I’d prefer to keep using it as my primary card since I’ve had it for X years, but I received a competitive rate offer from [competitor]. Again, I’d love to remain loyal to [provider] if you can help me with this.”

Continue this conversation by going up the ladder until you’ve reached a decision-maker who’s able to assist you. If the provider still denies your request, be willing to walk away and take your business to a competitor you’ve researched.  

5. Get it in writing

If you locked in a verbal agreement, congratulations! During any negotiation, make sure to secure the renegotiated terms in writing. This can be a physical contract or invoice, if it’s an in-person service, or an emailed confirmation that the change will be applied. Make sure the document is time-stamped and keep it for your records.  

Identifying areas where you might be overspending is one of the first steps in learning how to save money. Applying these tips to one or even a few of your monthly expenses can help keep your budget on track.

Jennifer Calonia