Here’s a secret. The companies that bill you regularly all have protocols for giving consumers better deals, Kurland says: “But they rely on the fact that you’re not going to call and ask.” Below, a plan for doing just that.
Remember, timing is important. When calling a company to ask for a deal, time it so you have the best chance of getting to a live person quickly. Wait times are at their longest after work hours and on weekends. But if you call during normal business hours—9 am to 5 pm Monday through Friday—you can often get through in just a couple of minutes.
Step 1: Take a Good Look at Monthly Bills
On a day when you can spare a couple of hours, pull out monthly bills such as cable, cell phone, and internet. In a 2021 CR survey of 34,107 members, about 70 percent who tried to negotiate for lower prices on cable TV, internet, and/or home phone services got a reduction (or another perk) on their bundled plans. “All those industries have easy-to-find, competitive deals you can use as leverage,” says Steven McKean, co-founder and CEO of Billshark, a bill negotiating company. Check your bills for any services you no longer want or need. “For example, the $10 per month you were happy to pay to insure your smartphone when it was new might not make sense now that it’s 6 years old,” Kurland says. Or you may be a new empty nester but still paying for superfast internet that the kids used to use for gaming. Circle your total costs, along with any fees or charges you don’t understand.
Step 2: Check Providers’ Websites for Deals
You want to see what discounts they’re offering, especially to new customers. Major cell phone carriers, for example, may be providing subscriptions to services such as streaming music or premium TV channels (and getting these could save you $10 to $15 per month if you can cancel them elsewhere). “If you don’t arm yourself with that information first, you’re going into a blind negotiation,” Kurland says. “You won’t know when they’re giving you a small discount just to get you off the phone, or if they’re handing you a really good deal.” While online, also take a look for simple changes that might lower your bill. For example, your cell phone company might offer discounts of $5 to $10 per month just for enrolling in paperless billing.
Step 3: Choose the Best Day and Time to Contact Companies
To get the biggest discount as quickly as possible, you want to talk to someone (yes, on the phone). Most people call after they get off work or on the weekends, which is when wait times are at their longest. If you schedule your call during normal business hours—9 am to 5 pm Monday through Friday—you can often get through to a live person in a couple of minutes, Kurland says.
Step 4: Speak to a Retention Specialist
With your research on deals in hand, dial the provider’s customer service number, which should be on its bills or website. But this isn’t your final stop: Customer support’s job is to get you off the phone, and they’ll probably offer you little or nothing, Kurland says. Instead, say something like, “I’m John Doe, and I’m thinking about canceling my service,” to get to the retention department. “The retention department’s job is to save customers and negotiate discounts with them to make them happy, so that’s the department you want,” Kurland says. If they fail to transfer you right away, ask specifically for the retention department, and keep asking until you are connected.
Step 5: Ask Open-Ended Questions
When you reach a retention rep, your most powerful tools are questions that start with who, whose, what, when, which, why, or how, according to the Harvard Law School Program on Negotiation. These are key because the answers require elaboration. McKean suggests starting with: “We enjoy your services, but inflation has been tough and I’m looking to cut costs. What can you do to help me?” “They may end up telling you about a new offer you didn’t even see,” McKean says. Write down the name, title, and phone number of anyone you speak with, and what they say, so you have a record.
Step 6: Push Back
Don’t jump at the first offer. A retention rep’s goal is to keep you as a customer with little impact to the company’s bottom line. It’s up to you to say, “What can you do to get me an even better deal?” Kurland says. And here’s where your research on the provider’s website may come in handy: If you’ve seen, for instance, a better deal on the site but the rep isn’t offering it, bring it up. And be polite but not chummy. A 2019 Harvard Business Review experiment involving more than 1,500 people found that warm and friendly negotiators ended up paying 15 percent more for the same item than tough and firm folks. “Keep your tone calm, clear, and consistent about what you want,” says Ben Kurland at BillFixers.
Step 7: Check the Offer Numbers
In some cases, your bill can climb higher during a negotiation, often thanks to bundled offers. “If you have internet service with a company, a rep may tell you it’s the same price a month to add TV to your internet service,” Kurland says. “If you take the deal, you’ll find there can be $30 or $40 of extra taxes and fees.”
Step 8: Get the details in writing
Once you get a discount you’re happy with, ask for confirmation via a follow-up email or text—if possible, before you get off the phone. “You’re speaking to a human being, so they may not process your new deal correctly,” says Steven McKean at Billshark. Check your bill the next month to make sure your deal went through. If not, you have the evidence to call and have it corrected.
Keep your paperwork together for any future negotiations. “The discount they give you may only last for 12 to 24 months, so mark your calendar, and give them another call a month or so before it expires,” Kurland says. At that time, ask a retention specialist if you can keep your current deal or get another one before the provider raises your rate.
Step 9: Repeat
Use these same steps to lower other bills, such as those for your health club, home alarm company, and pest control service, Kurland says. You can also try similar tactics with your home and car insurance companies. “In the case of home and auto insurance, ask about discounts that you’re not taking advantage of,” Kurland says. For auto insurance, these can include breaks for getting both your home and auto insurance with one carrier, taking a safe-driving course, and driving less than you used to. And consider raising your deductibles. Increasing your $500 deductible to $1,000 can reduce your overall policy costs by 11 percent, according to Douglas Heller, director of insurance at the Consumer Federation of America.
More possibilities: If you carry credit card balances, call, ask for the retention department, and request a lower interest rate. The company is more likely to do this if you’ve been with them for several years and typically pay your bills on time. When it comes to energy, in many places you can’t shop around for gas or electricity, but the American Coalition of Competitive Energy Suppliers has a list of states that allow you to choose providers, plus links to sites that will help you compare rates .