Editor's Note: MainStreet's Farnoosh Torabi went on the Today show to share some ways to keep more cash in your coffers. Here’s what she had to say:
Try making a few of these phone calls during your lunch break. It may put thousands back in your pocket.
1. Call Your Credit Card Company
Call and ask for a lower annual percentage rate. But you need to be in good shape. Credit card companies are not interested in working with you if you've been delinquent. If your APR is higher than the national average of around 10 to 11%, and you have been good about paying your bill for the last six months to a year, AND you have a relatively good credit score (more than 720), you've got the negotiating power to call and ask for a lower APR.
What do you say? Call customer service. Explain that you're a good customer, you're hoping to lower your APR, especially since you've got offers from other credit card companies both online and offline with better rates to transfer your balance. Have those offers in front of you and be prepared to read them off. Say, I've got this one card company that's offering me X rate. Don't worry about telling them which card company is offering you the deal…they'll be quick to point out why your existing deal is better. Bottom line: If the representative is unwilling to help, you ask to speak to the highest level of management available and again, state you have other options but that you'd rather keep your account with them. Call a few times if you have to.
What're the savings? Let's say you have a $9,000 balance - the average credit card balance in this country - with a 20% APR. Paying just the minimum amount each month, you're looking at up to $2,000 in interest payments in a year. If you bring that APR to the average 10 or 11% you can cut that in half for a $1,000 savings. Parting advice, before you get off the phone - ask to have your annual fee and any late fees waived. Could save an instant $25 to $50 right there.
2. Call Your Insurance Companies
Home insurance: What do you say? Call and ask about every available discount and mention any upgrades you've made on the house. If you don't immediately qualify, mention any improvements you've made to the home. If you upgraded plumbing or electrical, added a security system, smoke detectors, etc., all that can shave 10 to 20% discount off your monthly premium.
What're the savings? The latest figures from the Insurance Information Institute show the average homeowners' insurance premium is about $700 a year. A phone call to your insurance company could save you more than $100.
Car insurance: What do you say? If you start driving less because you're working from home now, or taking public transportation more often, bought a safer car, or you've taken the keys away from your teenager, it's worth calling up your car insurance company and letting them know that. That changes how the insurance company underwrites your policy. To them, you're technically not as high-risk of a client, so you shouldn't have to pay as much as before.
What're the savings? The average cost for auto insurance in this country is roughly $800. If you can shave off even just 15% because you are using your car less, that's potentially $120 savings with one phone call.
3. Call Your Cell Phone Company
What do you say? Ask about friends and family deals. The term “friends and family” has gotten loosely defined over the years and some carriers will accept a roommate or your third cousin removed as a “friend or family member.” You basically SHARE a plan and make calls to each other for free. If you don’t want to share a plan, there’s still some potential saving. Some carriers have what’s called “mobile to mobile’ plans, which in some cases let you make calls to your friends and family that use the same carrier free of charge.
What're the savings? For two people on a shared plan, the monthly cost may be only $50 instead of $80 when you pay for each line separately. In a year, that's $360 savings.
4. Call Your College
Experts at Finaid.org, a financial aid web site for college students, say that if you have had any changes to your financial situation in the last year (say you lost your job or your hours got cut back), id you have less money coming in than a year ago, or six months ago, then you should call the school’s financial aid office and ask for what’s called a “professional judgment review” where the school reassesses your need for financial aid factoring in your new circumstances. Be Prepared: They’ll want documents, a copy of your layoff notice, and a list of circumstances that have changed.
What're the savings? Potentially thousands of dollars. More than 90 percent of colleges responding to the NAICU survey said they were increasing their financial-aid budgets. Michigan State University, where students have been hit hard by the woes of the auto industry, recently set up a $500,000 fund set for families hurt by the economy's slide and, of course, due to the turmoil in the auto industry based in Michigan. A financial aid spokesperson at Michigan State says so far she’s awarded anywhere from $900 to $7,000 per student. The average student looks to be getting about $3,500.
For everyone else, finaid.org says that if your earnings have dropped by, say $10,000, and you have one child in college, you can potentially get an additional $2,000 to $5,000 in financial aid.
5. Call Your Cable, TV, Internet Company
New deals and sign-up incentives are popping up for new customers as a result of the battered housing market which has people moving about and having to sign up for new subscriptions.
What do you say? Even if you're an existing customer, call and see if you qualify for these new deals. If not, discuss how you are considering cancelling your premium channels. That usually earns you a discount. Bring up a better offer, and say you plan to switch. They'll likely make some concessions for you.
If it doesn't work, ask one more time, politely. The key here is that you've been a long standing customer, you're in a good place to negotiate and ask for some wiggle room. The route is to simply threaten to cancel.
What're the savings?
Discounts vary from provider to region to each individual customer, but expect at least $10 off your monthly bill for six months. That's $60 right away. If you have an even more expensive plan, you can save as much as $20 per month for over six months. That’s up to $120 total.