Credit-card companies are experts at taking your money. But did you know they'll agree to take a little less - and just for asking?
A secret of the credit-card industry is this: If you've been a longtime customer and have paid on time, a card issuer will bend over backward to keep you - even if they make less money, said Cindy Morus, a certified credit-report reviewer and financial coach in Hood River, Ore.
It's cheaper for card issuers to cut you a break than lose your business and have to find a new customer.
All you have to do is ask a card company to lower your interest rate, raise your limit or waive your fees.
It helps to have a script, which can be found in Morus' free e-book, "Credit Card Insider Tips," available at her Web site (www.creditcardinsidertips.com).
"It's just a road map to show them that it's really not that difficult," Morus said. "People have great success with it."
The benefit of asking for a lower rate is probably obvious - the less interest you pay, the more you can put toward the principal.
A script might go like this:
You: "Hi, can you tell me what my current interest rate is?"
Operator: "Your current interest rate is X percent."
You: "Hmmm. I would like you to lower my interest rate now, please." Don't say another word.
The ball is in their court, and they'll fill the silence with an offer.
Operator: "OK, I can lower it to X percent."
You: "That's not enough, but I will take that for now. Thank you for your help. I'd like to tell your supervisor how helpful you've been. Could you pass me over?"
Supervisor: "How can I help you?"
You: "First, I wanted to let you know how helpful the operator was. She/he did an excellent job of helping me.
"Now, can you tell me what my interest rate is?"
Repeat script above. Then, call back in a month or two and do it all again. Don't worry about nagging them. It won't hurt your relationship with a giant card company and you might luck into a new deal it is offering.
The point of asking for a supervisor is that he or she may be authorized to do more for you than the operator is.
You might wonder why you'd want more credit available if you're trying to get out of debt. Getting your credit limit raised will help your credit score, which is partly calculated on how much debt you have compared with your available credit.
But your credit score might fall if the credit-card company makes an official inquiry into your credit report - or pulls a report - and denies your request for a higher limit. So use the same basic script as above, except when asking for a higher limit be sure to ask, "How much can you raise my limit without pulling my credit score?"
Here, too, you can double-dip by asking for a supervisor. Another advantage to having a higher limit is avoiding an over-the-limit fee, which happens when you max out your card. You're less likely to do that with a higher limit.
A higher credit score can help you qualify for lower interest rates on a mortgage or car loan, and even lower insurance rates.
With competition among cards so fierce, there's often no reason to pay an annual fee. Ask the operator to waive the fee.
Gregory Karp writes for The Morning Call in Allentown, Pa.