October 2013 was probably the most difficult month of my life. I lost my son…and almost lost my wife. And while the physical and emotional effects lingered for quite some time, we faced something else we didn’t anticipate: medical bills.
That’s not to say we weren’t prepared financially for moments like this. However, in this situation, our health insurance unexpectedly denied our claims. And after exhausting our appeals, we were left with more than $40,000 in medical bills.
We felt hopeless and overwhelmed. What could we do? How were we going to pay for this?
That’s when I decided to swallow my pride and try the timeless art of negotiation. Every time we received a medical bill, I called the provider to negotiate, whether the bill was for $100 or $20,000. The lowest discount I received was 10% (on one of the bills). But for the majority of the bills, I received 30-60% off (and many of those were on my bigger bills)!
In the end, I saved tens of thousands of dollars and learned an important lesson: you can negotiate just about anything. So I didn’t stop at these medical bills. Since this experience, I’ve been known to negotiate other bills, like our internet bill or car insurance premium. And along the way, I’ve learned what tends to work best and what isn’t so effective. If you’re in a situation like I was, or if you’re just looking to get your monthly cable bill down a little bit, here are 9 tips to help you negotiate:
- Give yourself a pep talk.
Right before I call any provider to negotiate a bill, I get nervous. After all, it can be hard and intimidating. So what do I do? I give myself a pep talk, say a prayer, and take a couple of deep breaths. This helps me keep my emotions in check, especially for those moments when the negotiation doesn’t go as smoothly as I was hoping.
- Remember that the person on the other end of the line is a human being.
Attempting to negotiate a bill doesn’t only impact you. It impacts the other person on the line. After all, they are just trying to do their job, and you’re interrupting their day. Treat them with respect. Have a positive attitude. Smile as you talk (even though they can’t see you). And if you want, laugh and joke around with them appropriately. They get plenty of angry phone calls, so if you’re happy, you’ll stand out, and they’ll be more likely to help you.
- Be gracious.
I always start off each phone call by thanking the person on the other line for helping me and complimenting their service. If it’s my internet provider, I commend them for their fast speed. If it’s a medical bill, I praise them for their great care. I’ve found when you compliment someone, they feel better about themselves and want to reciprocate that same feeling to you.
- Be honest.
Is your budget tight? Say that. Are you going through tough times? Say that. Explain your situation (whatever it is). Most companies want to keep you as a customer or ensure they get paid something.
- Remember that the company wants to get paid.
If you’re trying to negotiate something like a medical bill or credit card bill, it’s important to remember that the company you’re dealing with will get more from you than from sending your bill to collections. This sort of knowledge gives you a mental edge as you negotiate.
For ongoing bills that you just want to negotiate down (like your cable or internet bill), tell them you want to continue with their service or product but don’t know if you can at the current rate. Remember, you’ve done this after you thanked them for their service. Because of the positive tone you’ve set, they may be more likely to “see what they can do” to keep you happy and ensure that they get paid something rather than your business going to a competitor.
- Suggest an amount or percentage.
When I negotiate a bill, I often throw out a number that I can afford. Sometimes that’s a percentage (I can pay 50% on that bill and do so today if you’re willing to settle for that). Sometimes that’s an amount (I can afford $70 a month for your internet service. Otherwise, I may have to go elsewhere to see if I can find cheaper, which I’d rather not do because I love your company so much). Just be sure it’s reasonable and within your budget.
- Don’t get angry or frustrated.
Not every negotiation will go your way. Sometimes, the person on the other end of the line may not be able to do anything to help you. I just went through this. Moments before writing this post, I failed to negotiate down one of my bills. But I stayed calm. Why? Getting angry and frustrated would have led the person on the other line to feel the same. And it also would’ve set a bad precedent for the next time I want to negotiate a bill.
- Regardless of the outcome, thank them again.
A grateful heart is contagious. And even if you get a smaller amount off then you were hoping for or nothing, thank them anyway. They took time out of their day to serve you. And they are under no obligation to cut your bill. Show them the respect they deserve. At the very least, it will make your day – and theirs – better.
- Fulfill your promise.
Did you agree to pay a certain amount by a certain deadline? Pay it. The company sacrificed for you. Now, you need to make sure you uphold your end of the deal. If you don’t they may change their mind. Or at the very least, you’ll make it harder for the rest of us when we negotiate.
While these tips should help you in negotiating most of your bills, it’s important to note that I don’t have experience dealing with collection agencies. If you’re in a situation like that, I recommend watching this video from Dave Ramsey for some additional tips.
Most of all, whether you’ve got an overwhelming situation that could seriously impact your finances, or you’re just looking to save a little money in your budget, remember the power of negotiation. Who knows? In just one, five-minute phone call, you might save $50, $100, $1,000 or more.
Question: What tips have helped you negotiate your bills? (Share in the comments below.)