1 - Pay your bills on time. This may seem like a "Duh" thing to do, and one many of us do quite frequently, but giving the credit card company one more reason to take $10 from your pocket is not a good way to save money. It helps your credit score, and gives you better leeway with the company in the future. Don't believe me? Check out #2.
2 - Ask for grievances on fees. Maybe you lost the bill, maybe the due date was a few days shorter than it usually is, but for whatever reason, you paid your bill a little late. If you've been a good customer with the company in the past (see #1), they're more likely to work with you to get that fee either removed, or at least keep it from rearing its ugly head again in the future. After all, they want you to continue to use their company, and the best way of doing that is to honor the relationship they have with their truly great customers.
Many companies have a policy in effect for these type situations. The requirements? Usually it's a history of on-time bill pays, paying at least the minimums if not the full total, and of course, being nice can't hurt. You merely need to call the company of choice, explain that you received your statement and noticed the late payment, and would like to see what you can do to get it removed. Make sure you have your pay history handy in case they need verification, and remember, the customer service rep is at the mercy of the company's policy, so be nice to them - don't shoot the messenger.
The first time my husband witnessed this, he laughed about how easy this was. Then he thought back to all those times he opened the bill to see the late fee and would be bitter about paying them their $10.00.
One key note - Do not make it a habit to pay your bills late and then ask for forgiveness. Most companies have a policy they can only remove the fee once within a certain time frame, usually 6 months to a year, but it can be even longer. It is a courtesy they extend to their customers who they see do not make a habit out of this, so don't expect them to break rules, no matter how angry you get.
3 - Ask about promotions and offers for your area. Companies frequently offer special rates to new customers, select areas, or certain plans of service. If any of those are available for your area, ask about how you can take advantage of those offers. Remember from item #2, they want to keep your business, not lose it. If they see you're looking for better rates, they're likely to offer you a discount to keep you there with them.
4 - Ask about lowering your interest rate. Believe it or not, there are policies that exist within credit card companies where you can work out a deal to lower your interest rate. Sometimes it's as easy as asking a question, and sometimes it requires a little deal making on your part. Are you willing to increase your minimum monthly payment by $15.00 if it means you're going from a 25% interest rate to a 8%? You better believe I'm making that deal. If you're on the "Dave Plan" you're probably working on your debt snowball as well, so think about when exactly you need to call those companies. Majority of time, they'll want to get the deal in effect the same day, so if you're not going to be able to make a higher payment for 2 months, hold off and pay off that lower total on the other debts before starting your negotiating.
5 - Don't let your credit cards go over the maximum limit. If you've not paid close attention to #1, or #2, and #4 hasn't seemed to help your interest rate, you may find yourself closer to this than you might think. Those late fees, coupled with the high interest, and the minimum requirement payments could have have you owing much more than you ever spent with them in the first place. Some of these over the limit fees can be close to your minimum monthly payment, making it nearly impossible to pay them off. This may seem like a kick back to #4, but call the company and see what you can do to get a deal that both parties are happy with.
When you are ready for negotiations, have all your payment history handy. Remember they want to get paid their money due, and you want to stop paying them. If they think they're never going to get all their money due, they'll likely work with you to reach a common ground. The basics of credit cards? They want your money, and as much of it as they can get. Their point of charging you over the limit and late fees is to persuade you to pay them more as soon as possible. If that tactic doesn't work and they see over months fees and no increase in your rate of return, they start getting ugly. They'll probably start calling you 3, 4, 5 times a day to harass you into giving them money. It might mean taking money from other budgeted areas, like food or mortgage, but do they care?
6 - When you can, pay off the total on credit card statements. Credit Card companies thrive off interest. They know that people are willing to hang thousands of dollars of debt over their heads every month, owing the company sometimes close to 30% interest can be daunting to anyone, and seem like a never ending mountain to climb. When you can, pay those cards off, and do a victory dance. You'll owe them less money over the long haul, and no longer be enslaved to their high interest evil.
The other benefit of paying off your total? It increases your maximum limit. Now, I'm not recommending you go back in debt with them, but that higher limit means a higher revolving credit on your credit report, which will increase your credit score and save you money on big purchases, like a house. A higher credit score, and you're more likely to get a better interest rate on a mortgage. Ever look at an amortization schedule on a mortgage? That low interest rate can save you hundreds of thousands of dollars over the typical 30 year fixed rate mortgage.
So no point in hiring a debt relief counselor, when you can do all the work yourself, with just a few calls and knowing your payment history. Put these in effect with your carefully crafted budget, and you'll see a significant difference in no time.
What do you think? Do you have tips not mentioned here? I'd love to hear them, and I'm sure others would love to save money thanks to you as well.