Personal Finance

If you want to try paying less to your credit card company, go old school and make a phone call.

While most cardholders have not requested a break on either interest rates or fees recently, the majority of those who did ask were successful, a recent survey shows.

In a recent one-year period — a time when interest rates were rising — 81% of cardholders who asked for a lower rate got it, and most got a reduction of between 5 and 6 percentage points, according to research from CompareCards.com.

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For late-payment fees, 87% were successful getting them eliminated, and 67% got their annual fee waived (24% were given a reduced annual fee).

“I was surprised that the chances of success are sky-high for every break we asked people about,” said Matt Schulz, chief industry analyst at CompareCards.com, which polled more than 1,000 people for its survey in March.

The report also shows that although women were less likely to ask for a break, they had the same success rate as men when they did ask for one.

However, about three-quarters of all respondents have not asked for any sort of reduced rate or waived fee, even as the amount of debt they carry — and the cost to finance it — has continued to climb.

In April, the nation’s collective credit card tab reached more than $1 trillion, according to the Federal Reserve. The average interest rate is about 16.9%, according to CompareCards. For store credit cards, the average is just under 25%.

Since 2016, the Federal Reserve has made eight increases to a key interest rate that affects consumer debt. Many economists now expect a small rate cut to be the Fed’s next move at some point this year unless economic indicators change.

However, Schulz said not to wait for rates to move down to try getting your rate down.

“You have a lot more power than you realize, regardless of what the Fed does,” he said.

In the CompareCards study, the average rate reduction that survey participants were able to snag was 6 percentage points. The median — half fell above, half below — was about 5 percentage points.

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Say you have a balance of $5,000 on a card that charges you 24% in interest and you pay $250 a month. It would take 26 months to pay off that amount and you’d pay about $1,450 in interest. If you could get that rate to 18%, you’d save more than $450 in interest and pay it off two months earlier, the study shows.

If you do try to negotiate the interest rate, it’s worthwhile being armed with another favorable offer you’ve received to see if they can match it, Schulz said.

He also pointed out that if you already are paying a lower-than-average interest rate, it’s less likely you’ll get a huge reduction. You can also explore 0% deals, which typically charge you an upfront fee but no interest for a set amount of time.

And, because the poll was random, Schulz said the success rate is likely not limited to consumers with high credit scores.

“That’s a really positive sign and a good indicator that even folks with not-perfect credit should take time to ask,” he said. “Otherwise, you could end up paying more to your credit card company than you probably need to.”

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