How to Negotiate Your Bills

How to Negotiate BillsWhen you receive a bill that seems impossible to pay, usually a sinking feeling accompanies it, and you wonder what you can do.

Luckily, some of these bills are actually negotiable. At the very least, it’s possible to negotiate the payment terms so that the situation is manageable to you. Before you despair, consider negotiating with the company. This article will help you understand how to negotiate different types of bills. You might be surprised at which bills you can get a break on.

How to Negotiate Medical/Health Care Bills

Some of the easiest bills to negotiate are those related to medicine and health care. Many doctors, dentists, hospitals, and eye care specialists will give you a discount just for paying cash at the time of service. These discounts range from 5% to 20%. You can also ask if your health provider offers lower prices if you don’t go through your insurance company.

It’s also possible to negotiate your hospital bills. First of all, ask for an itemized bill, and look for errors. Make sure you understand what you are being charged for, and question expenses that seem out of place. You can also offer to settle for a lesser payment in full if you have a big hospital bill. Some hospitals will accept a smaller amount if you have the cash in hand.

At the very least, you should be able to negotiate a payment plan. Many health care service providers make allowances for those experiencing financial hardship. Be up front about your situation, and you can negotiate a payment plan that you can manage.

How to Negotiate Credit Card Bills

When you’re late paying a credit card bill (or not able to pay at all) you sometimes have the opportunity to try negotiating the amount you owe. As we discuss in our article titled What Happens If I Don’t Pay My Credit Cards?, the credit card company will often give your account to their in-house collections agents when you’re more than 30 days late on a payment. At that point, you may be able to negotiate a lower amount (provided you can pay it) with the person handling your account. When you call the credit card company, make sure you are talking with someone who has the authority to discuss payment options and explain to them what you are looking for.

How to Negotiate Bills in Collections

If you’ve fallen behind on your bills to the point that they are extremely late (more than 90 days in most cases) chances are that they will end up sold to a collections company. In those cases, it’s possible to negotiate what you owe. Keep in mind the collections company simply wants to make a profit on your debt, and they don’t need to recoup the whole debt to accomplish that. However, in most cases you will need to have a lump sum available. You can either settle for less than you owe with a one-time payment, or work out a payment plan on a lower amount.

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How to Negotiate Utility/Tax Bills

Similarly, it is also possible to negotiate utility bills, and even your taxes. If you are falling behind, you might be able to pay a portion of your obligation, or work out a payment plan that fits your budget. It is harder to prescribe general instructions for these situations, because utility and tax bills come from such a variety of different sources. However, the first step is always to pick up the phone and call, then explain your situation.

How to Negotiate Internet, TV, and Cell Phone Bills

One of the classic methods of negotiating your bills is to focus on services. Internet, TV, and cell phone providers often offer promotional rates. However, when the promo period ends, you are subject to an increase. One way to negotiate is to call and threaten to cancel. Chances are that there is another promotional rate being offered elsewhere. Arm yourself with that information, and you will have negotiating power.

Even if you aren’t on a promotional rate, it never hurts to shop around periodically. Check to see if competitors are offering good deals, and then go to your service provider. This method can even work with some insurance policies. If you find a better price on insurance, approach your current agent, and find out what he or she can do in terms of lowering your premium.

Tips for Negotiating Your Bills

Negotiation requires preparation and planning. Here are a few tips that can help your negotiations:

  • Prepare a script: Figure out what you want to say ahead of time. Know your main points, what you want, and what you are willing to accept.
  • Be polite: Remain calm and speak politely and respectfully.
  • Ask for someone who can help you: If the person you are talking to doesn’t have the ability to help, ask for a recommendation.
  • Employ silence: Don’t accept a counter-offer immediately. Pause for 30 seconds or so. You might find that the other party improves the counter-offer due to worries you won’t accept.
  • Make good on your threat to leave: Whether you are trying to get your credit card fees waived, or reduce your Internet bill, you need to be prepared to make good on your threat to cancel. Don’t make that threat unless you are prepared to deliver. (Of course, you can’t use this technique on some bills, like medical bills.)

In truth, almost any bill is negotiable. It never hurts to ask; the worst thing that can happen is that you’re told, “no.” So now that you know how to negotiate those bills, give it a try (that is, if you can’t pay the whole thing).

Miranda Marquit is a professional freelance writer who specializes in personal finance topics and runs PlantingMoneySeeds.com. She lives in Logan, Utah.

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  • Jenna from Adaptu

    What a great list of tips.  It helps to stay on track and manage alerts so you don’t have to call as often.  (I hate being on hold).

  • http://thethriftyspendthrift.wordpress.com/ thethriftyspendthrift

    I have also found that some companies will take money off of your bill if you are in a financial hardship. I found some information for my husband so that he could save his mom some money on her gas and electric bills. They actually end up issuing her a credit, which saves her a considerable amount of money.

    • http://www.twitter.com/bwfeldman Benjamin Feldman

      That is a very good point. Many utility companies have programs for giving credit to low-income households, as you mentioned. Thanks!

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