Five Minute Finances #2: Call Your Credit Card Company

Five Minute FinancesFive Minute Finances is a series of tips on how you can save significant money or reorganize your financial life in just five minutes. These tips appear Monday, Wednesday, and Friday on The Simple Dollar.

Tip #2: Call your credit card company
According to CardWeb, the average American household has approximately $9,200 in credit card debt, with the average interest rate hovering around 16.5%. Just a quick bit of math shows that a household with the average credit card and credit card debt is paying $1,518 in finance charges a year. That’s a lot of dough.

Fortunately, there’s a very simple tactic that anyone can use to reduce those finance charges a bit without damaging your credit report. All it takes is a few minutes on the phone and suddenly your finance charges will be steeply lowered. Here’s what you do.

1. Take your highest interest credit card, flip the card over, and dial the customer service number on the back. Wade through their phone menu until you reach a customer service representative.

2. Ask to speak to a supervisor. At nearly all credit card call centers, the people who first answer the phone have no power to do anything at all.

3. Tell the person that you are having difficulty making payments on time and you are seeking a rate reduction. Usually, most supervisors will approve this request immediately and drop your rate by 5 to 7%, because it’s more cost-effective for the company to drop the rate than have to deal with a customer who may be making late payments.

4. If the supervisor refuses to budge, indicate that you are looking into debt consolidation, whether or not you actually are. Mention the possibility of transferring the balance to another card with a low introductory APR. Again, rather than facing the potential loss of income due to a complete payoff, the supervisor will often reduce the rate at this point.

5. If the supervisor still won’t budge, hang up and call back another time of the day (if you called in the morning, wait until the evening, and vice versa). Some supervisors are simply unwilling to reduce rates for any reason, while others are much more willing.

Some tips:

Don’t repeatedly request rate reductions on the same card. If you get one, consider it good enough and don’t continue to call and ask for further reductions. Why? Many companies maintain databases of “trouble” customers and customer service for these individuals in the database is much more difficult than before.

Don’t hesitate to try this on all your cards, but be aware that the lower the interest rate, the less likely you will see a significant rate drop. If you’ve already got a 7.9% interest rate, this phone call probably won’t do you too much good. Instead, save this tactic for the cards that are above 15%, as those are the cards where this tactic is cost-effective.

If you can’t get a reduction at all, consider another solution. This may include signing up for another card and transferring the balance, even though a new card will ding your credit report a bit in the short term. If a reduction or elimination of interest rates makes it possible for you to pay off your card quickly, this may be the way to go.

Remember, this advice is useless if you don’t also curb your spending. If you can’t afford to buy things, don’t buy them just because you have the plastic!

Time spent: Five minutes
Money saved: $460 (that’s 5% of $9,200)

Trent Hamm

Founder & Columnist

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 and still writes a daily column on personal finance. He’s the author of three books published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press, has contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and his financial advice has been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.