A reader is skeptical that she can lower her interest rate and get a late fee removed — just by asking.
Question: I’ve read on your website and others that you can call your credit card company and ask for a late charge to be removed — and they’ll do it. The same with increasing a credit limit or decreasing an interest rate.
My husbands says this is one of those too-good-to-be-true things and there must be a catch, although I can’t think of one. Is this for real? And if it is, how exactly do you do it?
— Paulina in Oklahoma
Howard Dvorkin CPA answers…
Yes, it’s for real. Yes, there’s a catch.
First, let’s talk about the premise. Not only can you ask your credit card issuer for a break, there are now statistics on your probable success.
Earlier this month, a poll from CreditCards.com revealed, “89 percent of credit cardholders who asked for a late fee waiver had their request granted and 78 percent who requested a lower interest rate received one.”
Those are very good odds, but it raises a question your husband is probably asking: Why would these credit card companies do this?
The answer is one word: competition.
Back in the early 1990s, when I first became a CPA and financial counselor, there were only a handful of credit cards to choose from. These days, there are literally hundreds — for those who want to rack up airline miles to those who want cash back to those who want reward points to those who have, oddly enough, bad credit.
To keep their customers from fleeing to other cards, these issuers will cut you a break. For the asking, they’ll waive the fee for a late payment. They might add a few thousand dollars to your credit limit. They might even lower your interest rate by a fraction of a percent.
Now here’s the catch: You can only do this once in a while.
Since this is a courtesy and not a requirement, your credit card issuer will likely cut you a break the first time you call. All you need to do is dial the number on the back of your card and say something like this…
Hello! I’ve been a customer of your for several years now, and I’ve never been late with my payments — until now. It’s my fault, I just got bogged down and forgot. But I’m wondering if you can still help me out. Can I get that late fee waived this one time? Thank you!
As you’ll notice, several things are happening here. First, you’re being very nice. Credit card representatives are human beings, and they often get mistreated by irate cardholders. Using the Golden Rule here will help you get what you want.
Second, if you’ve had one card for a few years, slip that into the conversation. Credit card companies are no different than any other business — they value long-time customers.
Third, if you do this sparingly — I suggest no more than once a year — you should get excellent results. Best of all, you can tell your husband, “Told you so!”
Have a debt question?
Email your question to firstname.lastname@example.org and Howard Dvorkin will review it. Dvorkin is a CPA, chairman of Debt.com, and author of two personal finance books, Credit Hell: How to Dig Yourself Out of Debt and Power Up: Taking Charge of Your Financial Destiny.