The big ask: The right questions can make you money

The big ask: The right questions can make you money
© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: U.S. dollar bills are seen on a light table at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing in Washington, November 14, 2014. REUTERS/Gary Cameron/File Photo

By Chris Taylor

NEW YORK (Reuters) – If you want a better financial situation for yourself, here is a surprisingly simple piece of advice: Ask for it.

Want a lower interest rate on your credit card? Ask. Want bank fees waived? Ask. Want a lower medical bill? Ask.

That is the advice of LendingTree chief credit analyst Matt Schulz in his new book, “Ask Questions, Save Money, Make More.”

For a lot of different reasons – culture, habit, anxiety – we do not like asking people for things. And it is costing us money.

“The worst thing that can happen is that somebody tells you no,” says Schulz. “But if they say yes, great things can happen.”

Consumers tend to think that all the costs we encounter in life are forever fixed, but, in reality, very few of them are. Just one example: 76% of those who asked for a lower credit card rate got one, according to a LendingTree survey.

Getting better deals every day requires negotiation – and that is a skill few have developed. Here are a few tips to give yourself a financial makeover by asking the right questions.

NOTCH SOME BIG WINS

As satisfying as it is to get a small bank fee waived, what is really going to transform your financial life is most people’s biggest monthly expense – housing.

Getting a big win here could mean tens of thousands of dollars, so be thorough, disciplined and creative about saving money on a mortgage.

That could mean anything from consulting multiple lenders and playing offers against each other, to “buying points” (paying a fee up-front for a lower rate), to reducing closing costs, to getting a shorter-term loan, to considering adjustable-rate products.

NEGOTIATE EVERYTHING

Some things are obviously negotiable (like used cars), while others are not. One area people do not normally think of as ripe for haggling: Medical bills. Since a doctor’s office is such an intimidating environment, we assume that everything on the bill is 100% correct, when “in truth it’s often not,” Schulz says.

Review the bill and make sure it is accurate, he advises. The difference between one code and another on a medical bill can be a huge amount of money.

Another avenue for negotiating medical discounts is simply paying cash – it saves healthcare providers from the challenge of dealing with insurance companies.

USE SCRIPTS

In many cultures around the world, haggling is an art form. In American society, not so much – which is why we are so nervous and clumsy about it.

To get you past that anxiety, Schulz has included pre-written scripts for almost every financial encounter you can imagine: What to say, how to react to their response, and so on.

With that kind of cheat sheet, you can get over your nervousness, practice and eventually get to a skill level where you do not need those scripts anymore.

BOOST YOUR COMPENSATION

You should not feel ashamed about asking for what you are worth. And total compensation does not have to be just about a dollar amount – it could be about increased benefits, vacation days, tuition reimbursement or other perks.

Remember that you are not powerless in this situation. If you are a valued employee who is good at their job, the cost of finding and training someone to replace you would be significant.

And if asking for more salary freaks you out, run through it at home first with friend or relative.

“Practice really helps,” Schulz says. “It’s a bit like exercising, building stronger muscles, and getting your reps in. That will make things easier on you.”

BE NICE

The old stereotype is that negotiating is a zero-sum game, where one person wins, the other loses, and you have to act hyper-aggressive to bulldoze your opponent. All of that is false.

After all, if you are a customer-service rep who is yelled at dozens of times daily, are you more likely to help someone who is cursing you out, or aid someone who is treating you with kindness and respect?

The concept of “lifetime value” means that everyone can come out with a win, Schulz says. You get something waived, and they retain a loyal customer who will likely make them money down the road.

The bottom line? Ask away. Once you do hone those abilities, a whole lot of financial possibilities open up.

Says Schulz: “People have way more power over their money than they think they do.”