Ser­vices where you can cut bet­ter deals

Austin American-Statesman - - BUSINESS -

The word “bills” used to be syn­ony­mous with “fixed ex­penses.” But there’s noth­ing fixed about many of the bills a typ­i­cal house­hold pays to­day.

Some bills have in­tro­duc­tory rates that ex­pire, shoot­ing costs sky­ward. Others of­fer se­cret dis­counts or up­grades to those in the know. Providers con­stantly tweak their plans and pric­ing, which means long-term cus­tomers can over­pay by hun­dreds of dol­lars a year.

“It’s like air­line seat­ing pric­ing,” said Steven McKean, founder and CEO of Bil­lShark, a bill ne­go­ti­at­ing ser­vice based in Boston. “I wouldn’t say (peo­ple) are over­charged, but I would just say that the pric­ing is very opaque.”

Bil­lShark cal­cu­lates Amer­i­cans could save $50 bil­lion a year by hag­gling over their bills for cell­phone ser­vice, home se­cu­rity, in­ter­net and pay tele­vi­sion. The com­pany of­fers to ne­go­ti­ate for con­sumers in ex­change for 40 per­cent to 50 per­cent of the sav­ings.

The sav­ings can to­tal hun­dreds or even thou­sands of dol­lars. McKean said his ne­go­tia­tors cut bills by an av­er­age of $320 each, with an­nual sav­ings rang­ing from $250 for home se­cu­rity to $300 for TV, phone and In­ter­net bun­dles to $360 for cell phone bills.

Bill ne­go­tia­tors say the fol­low­ing ser­vices of­ten have plenty of room for ne­go­ti­a­tion: ■ Pay tele­vi­sion (ca­ble or satel­lite) ■ Lan­d­line phones ■ In­ter­net ■ Alarm sys­tems ■ Satel­lite ra­dio ■ Bot­tled wa­ter de­liv­ery ■ Gym mem­ber­ships What these bills have in com­mon is com­pe­ti­tion. In most ar­eas, there’s an­other provider that you can hire. You also can opt out, at least the­o­ret­i­cally.

Most Bil­lShark cus­tomers would rather stick with the ser­vice they have than deal with the some­times con­sid­er­able has­sles of chang­ing providers, McKean says.

“They don’t want to rip out their DVR, and they don’t want new equip­ment, and they don’t want to sit around (wait­ing to) set up all this stuff,” he says. “They just want a lower price.”

Some­times a com­peti­tor’s deals are so much bet­ter that it’s worth the switch, he says. That’s par­tic­u­larly true for cell­phone providers, who are pay­ing cus­tomers’ early ter­mi­na­tion fees and of­fer­ing other boun­ties to switch.

“They’re all des­per­ate to steal each other’s clients,” said Ben Kur­land of Bil­lFix­ers, one of Bil­lShark’s com­peti­tors in the field.

Know­ing you have that kind of lever­age can help you ne­go­ti­ate bet­ter deals. Here are the steps:

■ Gather com­peti­tors’ of­fers. These may be touted on the providers’ web­sites, or you may have to call and ask what the best deals are for new cus­tomers. Make sure you nail down the de­tails, such as the speed of the in­ter­net ser­vice and which tele­vi­sion chan­nels are in­cluded, for ex­am­ple.

■ Call your provider. Let the tele­phone rep­re­sen­ta­tive know, right away, that you’re think­ing of switch­ing to a com­peti­tor or can­cel­ing the ser­vice if you can’t get a bet­ter deal. That typ­i­cally means a trans­fer to the cus­tomer re­ten­tion depart­ment, which of­ten has more lee­way to ad­just your bill.

■ Tell them what you know. Com­pa­nies have caught on to empty threats to can­cel, Kur­land says. “But if you call up and you say, ‘Hey, this is the other provider on my street, and this is the new price that they’re of­fer­ing. Why don’t we strike a deal?’” Kur­land says.

■ Don’t ac­cept the first of­fer. If “Can’t you do any bet­ter than that?” doesn’t pro­duce a deeper dis­count, tell them you’ll sleep on it. That may pro­duce an­other price break, or you may get a dif­fer­ent agent the next day who’s more eager to deal.

■ Think big­ger. Monthly bills such as mort­gages and car in­sur­ance aren’t ne­go­tiable in the same way, but you can and should re­visit those rates at least an­nu­ally. The sav­ings could be big­ger than all your smaller bills put to­gether.

The older I get, the more fiercely I de­fend lib­eral arts ma­jors. I’m the proud re­cip­i­ent of an English de­gree. Some peo­ple thought study­ing lit­er­a­ture was an en­dear­ing quirk, not a ca­reer path, but it led me to a ful­fill­ing ca­reer in jour­nal­ism.

I’ve seen how des­per­ate com­pa­nies are for good writ­ers, com­mu­ni­ca­tors and re­searchers. Ac­cord­ing to a Na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion of Col­leges and Em­ploy­ers spring 2016 sur­vey, em­ploy­ers rated crit­i­cal think­ing, pro­fes­sion­al­ism and team­work as the most im­por­tant ca­reer-readi­ness traits of col­lege grad­u­ates — all achiev­able through lib­eral arts stud­ies.

It’s true that PayS­cale’s list of bach­e­lor de­grees with high in­come po­ten­tial is dom­i­nated by sci­ence and en­gi­neer­ing. But a hu­man­i­ties back­ground can give you the foun­da­tion to solve prob­lems, lead and col­lab­o­rate with others, which can help

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