Services where you can cut better deals
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.
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