If you're an American, there's a decent chance that you have credit card debt. There's also a decent chance that you'd love to lower your interest rate, get out of a fee or two, or change your payment structure to better fit your life.
Here's the good news: "If you manage to pay your credit card bills on time and have an above average credit score, most credit card companies will agree to negotiate interest rates, credit limits and payment structure," said Jill Gonzalez, an analyst with CardHub, a site that helps consumers compare and apply for credit cards
With credit card interest rates ranging from around 12 percent to 24 percent or more, there's potential for some real savings. So check out these seven tips that can help you negotiate your credit card bill by lowering your interest rate, increasing your credit limit, getting rid of fees and more.
1. Know Your Credit Score
A low interest rate is usually the key to lowering your credit card bill. But lower credit card interest rates start with higher credit scores.
The commonly used FICO credit score ranges from 300 to 850. The higher your credit score, the higher the chances you can secure a lower interest rate on your credit card. In fact, the best rates and terms go to borrowers with a score of 740 or better, said Bethy Hardeman, chief consumer advocate at Credit Karma, a site where you can get your credit score for free and learn how to build good credit.
"But banks also love to see improvements to your credit score if you're not quite there yet," she added. "If you've been working to build your credit since you first applied for your card, let your bank know. You may now be eligible to receive lower rates or higher credit limits because of your improved credit health."
2. Do Your Research First
In addition to knowing your credit score, you'll want to know what other credit card offers you qualify for, such as 0 percent transfer fees or lower interest rates. If you think you qualify for a lower rate with another credit card, or are receiving attractive transfer offers in the mail, let your current credit card company know and see if they will negotiate with you. "They may be willing to match the offer if you ask," said Hardeman.
Her site, CreditKarma.com, is just one potential place to start. "We break down the costs and potential savings of many credit cards and compare them to what you're currently paying," she said.
3. Make Your Case for a Higher Credit Limit
Raising your credit limit can be seen in two ways by your bank. It could mean an opportunity to make more in interest off a loyal customer. Or, you can be seen as a risky move, ending in late payments or default. So how do you convince your financial institution that you're a good bet?
"The safest way is to call the credit card company and state your case as for why you deserve a higher credit line, including bank records, past payment details and plans for using the added credit," said Gonzalez. She said not to get defeated if your first attempt fails — just call again, and try your luck with a different customer service representative.
"Keep in mind that it's best to employ this tactic at least six months after opening your account and making timely payments," Gonzalez added.
Although increasing your credit limit is a way to potentially increase your credit health, there are some potential pitfalls you'll want to avoid as well. First, if having a higher credit limit will tempt you to spend more than your budget allows, it could backfire in a financially painful way.
"Also, requesting a higher credit limit may result in a hard inquiry, which can affect your credit score, so you'll need to consider whether an increase is worth it before you ask," said Hardeman.
4. Get Late Fees Waived
Late fees suck. They're also expensive. In fact, their only good trait is that they are often negotiable, especially if you've got an otherwise good payment history. Here's how to go about it, according to Hardeman:
"If it's the first time you've been late, pay your bill as quickly as possible, then call your bank. Explain the situation to them, and remind them that it's your first time. They may be willing to consider it a fluke and help you."
5. Say Goodbye to Your Annual Fee
Another credit card fee that's downright insulting is the annual fee. And while this one might not be as easy as a first-time late fee to wriggle out of, it can be done.
"Banks are often willing to waive your annual fee, especially if it's the first year, or [they] may offer statement credits or rewards points that may offset the cost of the fee," said Hardeman.
She also said that if you're thinking about canceling a card to avoid an annual fee, you should consider calling your bank first. "Closing accounts can affect your credit," she warned.
6. Negotiate a Better Payment Structure
If you have more than one credit card — all with different due dates — along with other bills, making on-time payments consistently can become more difficult than a circus juggling act. And dropping a ball can really hurt.
"Having a solid on-time payment history is one of the most important factors used to calculate your credit score," said Hardeman.
One way to make your life easier is to align all your payment due dates. "Being able to synchronize all of your due dates can make it easier to remember your payments," she said.
But how do you convince your bank to alter your payment structure? In most cases, banks will probably be accommodating, since this is a win-win: they get paid, and you stress less.
7. Use Honey, Not Vinegar
The experts agreed that as aggravating as dealing with credit card customer service reps can be sometimes, it's always best to kill them with kindness. "Be friendly and positive," said Hardeman. "It seems silly to say, but remember that there's another person on the other end of the phone. We've all made mistakes, and they can choose to empathize with you."
She added, "While there's no guarantee they'll make the change, you lose nothing by asking kindly and calmly."
From GoBankingRates.com: How to negotiate credit card bills