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Be the Squeaky Wheel

Credit Wise (featured column)
by Jennifer Wallis

The words of dear old Mom may be emblazoned in your head to be polite and never talk back. The old adage that the squeaky wheel gets the grease is still used today because it’s true.

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While rudeness rarely gets you very far, being educated and aware of what you are paying when dealing with creditors, insurance companies, and medical bills, can save you a lot of money. Don’t fall into the trap of never questioning the charges on your credit cards or why the insurance company never paid the medical bill that you thought they were supposed to pay. Here are some tips to make sure you are only paying for what you owe:

Read your mail: 

This may sound simple but many people just open the bill and pay it without questioning if they actually owe it. If you go to the doctor and receive a bill for something you thought your insurance should have covered, call the doctor’s office to make sure it has been filed correctly. Call the insurance company to find out if the claim was denied and why. It is your responsibility to follow up to make sure the claim was filed correctly because you will be responsible for the bill if insurance does not pay. Many claims are unjustly denied. Often, all that you need to do is call the insurance company and ask them to re-file it.

Scrutinize your statements: 

Closely examine all charges and call the creditor if you have any questions. Are you paying for credit card insurance that you didn’t realize you had or magazine subscriptions that you never agreed to buy? If so, call and cancel if you don’t want the service. There are some telemarketing companies that sell expensive magazine subscriptions. The charges will show up for several months on your credit card bill. If you find yourself paying for these, you can cancel the service and ask for any charges for undelivered magazines to be credited back to your account. They may not be very thrilled about canceling your service but be persistent and they will do it. You may also be able to get your credit card company to credit back the credit protection insurance if you never wanted the service.

Forget the fees: 

If the recent mail slowdown has resulted in some late fees on your credit cards, call and ask them if they will remove them. If you have a good pay history, credit card companies will probably remove these fees if you ask. If you are paying an annual fee on your credit card, ask the company if they offer a card with no annual fee. There are a lot of credit cards out there with reasonable interest rates and no annual fees. Some banks may also reduce or remove returned check fees if it is a rare event.

Ask for a lower interest rate: 

If you aren’t able to pay your credit card balances in full each month and you have a good pay history, you should be have a good interest rate. Call and ask for a lower rate. See "How to Negotiate Lower Interest Rates" on this web site.

Be persistent but never pushy: 

Remember that the person you are dealing with is a human being with feelings. Be polite because if you make them mad, they will go out of their way not to help you. Let them know what you need from them and appeal to them for help. If you make them feel like they are doing you a favor, they will be much more likely to help you. Be sure to thank them for their help.

Request a write-off: 

If you are facing a hardship situation and still owe medical bills after insurance has paid, request that the doctor or hospital write off your balance. They may not be able to forgive all of it but they may be able to accept a reduced amount if you are having trouble paying. While write-offs can be great for medical bills, reaching a settlement on a credit card can negatively affect your credit. Be sure that you are fully aware of any consequences before reaching a credit card settlement.

While these tips may require a bit more energy than just accepting things at face value, they can save you a lot of money. Don’t be afraid to take the driver’s seat instead of letting creditors take you and your money for a ride.

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Copyright © 2002 by Jennifer Wallis. All rights reserved.

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