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Poll: Most who ask get late fees waived, rates reduced

Cardholders who ask, receive. Yet only a small number are making those requests

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Poll: More than 3 out of 4 get credit card late fees waived, interest rates reduced
Poll: More than 3 out of 4 get credit card late fees waived, interest rates reduced

Want to get your credit card late fee waived or your interest rate lowered? All you have to do is ask, according to a new survey by CreditCards.com.

The survey of 981 credit card holders in the U.S. found that almost 9 out of 10 (89 percent) who asked their credit card issuers to reverse a late fee had their request granted. Of those who asked for an interest rate reduction, more than three out of four (78 percent) were successful.

Given the success rates, everyone should be asking for those perks. Yet the survey found that only a small number of credit card customers – about 1 in 5 – has made each type of request. 

It’s a lot more expensive to acquire a customer these days than it is to retain one, so they do what they can to keep you.

-- Bill McCracken 
  Synergistics Research Corp. 

“Consumers just don’t realize how much card companies want to keep them,” said Bill McCracken, president of Synergistics Research Corp., a market research firm that studies the credit card industry. “Issuers know that if you’re worked up enough to call, wait on hold and talk to a customer representative, then there’s a risk that you’re going to close the card. It’s a lot more expensive to acquire a customer these days than it is to retain one, so they do what they can to keep you.”

The survey found that African-American cardholders had a more difficult time getting their interest rates lowered than other demographic groups. Just 33 percent of them reported success, compared to 81 percent of whites and 88 percent of Hispanics.

Customers under age 30 were also less successful, with only 36 percent of them receiving interest rate reductions, versus 78 percent of older adults. There were fewer notable racial or age differences around late fee reversals.

Annual household income and education level did not significantly affect a cardholder’s likelihood of success in either type of request, according to the survey.  

Card companies generous on late fee waivers
It’s a no-brainer to ask for a late fee reversal if you spent time in the hospital or if the bank never sent a statement. But what if you don’t have a good reason for paying late – say, you simply forgot? Ask anyway, said Michael Moeser, director of payments, retail and small business at Javelin Strategy & Research. Many issuers forgive a late fee a specific number of times per year without much account review, he said.

Those who ask, receive better card terms

Discover, for example, offers every card member forgiveness on their first late payment, a spokeswoman said.  Four other big issuers contacted by CreditCards.com – American Express, Bank of America, Chase and U.S. Bank – declined to share specific guidelines around their late fee waivers.

American Express considers “a number of factors” when deciding whether to waive a late fee, said spokeswoman Ashley Tufts, “including the overall relationship with American Express and past spending and payment history.”  

Chase, U.S. Bank and Bank of America also said they make the decisions on a case-by-case basis.

However, a Chase customer service rep told CreditCards.com that he has been instructed to forgive one late fee every six months, no questions asked. “It doesn’t matter what your reason is, we will override the fee if you ask,” said the rep, who asked not to be named. “But if you already got a waiver in the last six months, the answer is no.” Chase makes an occasional exception, he said, if the fee is the result of a bank error or if the customer has extenuating circumstances, such as proof of a hospital stay.

A former Capital One customer service rep said the policy there was similar. “The rule of thumb was, if this was your first or even the second time you were late in 12 months, you didn’t even have to provide a reason,” he said. “It was just a courtesy.  But were you habitual, then there was a point where we just put our foot down.”

More than 3 out of 4 got interest rates slashed
If you’ve been thinking about asking for a lower interest rate, your chances of success may be higher now than they’ve been in the past.  In the survey, 78 percent of those who asked got their rates slashed, compared to 65 percent in 2014, the last time CreditCards.com did a poll. That’s a jump of 13 percentage points.

The reason is simple, McCracken said. Credit card competition has gotten fierce, and issuers know that the quest for lower rates is a big reason customers flee. His company’s research shows that cardholders are highly likely to close their accounts if they ask for a rate reduction but don’t get it.

Card companies also have more room to lower rates, said Brian Riley, principal executive adviser at research firm CEB. The 2009 CARD Act made it difficult for issuers to raise interest rates on consumer balances to control risk, he said, so many issuers hiked the initial rates on their cards.

“Because issuers are pricing cards on the high side going in, if they see you’re making payments and following the terms, there’s more opportunity for them to roll it back,” Riley said.

Tufts, of AmEx, said the company looks at lots of different factors when deciding whether to lower a card member’s interest rate, including spending and payment history, debt with other lenders, credit bureau scores and other credit report information.

When you call to ask for a lower rate, experts recommend you know your credit card and payment history with the card – and be sure to be polite. (You can follow this script.) “Probably the biggest thing aside from your history is being nice to the card rep on the line,” Moeser said. “He or she usually has some leeway, and if you’re a rude, you’re much less likely to get help.”

There’s no button on the computer I can press to lower an APR. I just open the pricing window and read the script that’s there.

-- Chase customer service representative

No matter how kindly you ask, however, if your credit history isn’t strong, there may not be much the rep can do. The Chase customer service rep said when a cardholder asks him for a reduction, he runs a computer analysis that tells him whether he can say yes or no; it’s part of an effort to treat all customers fairly and equitably. “There’s no button on the computer I can press to lower an APR,” the Chase rep says. “I just open the pricing window and read the script that’s there.”

Other survey findings

  • The number of cardholders asking for late fee waivers and interest rate reductions has dropped since 2014, even though their likelihood of success has increased. Only 22 percent of cardholders said they had ever asked their credit card company to forgive a late fee, compared to 28 percent in 2014. And only 19 percent had requested a lower interest rate, compared to 23 percent before.
  • Credit card companies are somewhat more likely to grant a fee waiver than they were in 2014, but the difference is within the poll’s margin of error. About 89 percent of cardholders who asked for a reversal received it, three percentage points more than in 2014.
  • Very few young people are asking their credit card companies for help on these issues. Ninety percent of those under age 30 have never asked for a late fee waiver and 97 percent have never asked for a lower interest rate. Customers ages 30-64 are twice as likely to make those requests.
  • The higher your income, the more likely you are to call and ask for a lower interest rate, but income does not appear to affect your chance of success. Almost one in four (24 percent) cardholders with annual household incomes above $75,000 asked for a lower interest rate, compared to 17 percent of those with lower incomes.
  • Credit card customers ages 50 to 64 had the most success in getting their interest rates lowered (81 percent), followed by ages 65 plus (80 percent), ages  30-49 (77 percent) and finally, those under 30 (36 percent)
  • The older the cardholder, the more likely they were to have a late fee forgiven: 91 percent of cardholders age 50 and older, 89 percent of those ages 30-49 and 84 percent of those ages 18-29 received a fee waiver when they requested one.
  • 81 percent of those who were unemployed never asked their credit card company to waive a late fee, compared to 74 percent of those who had a job. But employment  status did not affect whether a credit card company granted a fee reversal.

Methodology
The survey was conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International for CreditCards.com from Feb. 4 to Feb. 7 and from Feb. 18 to 21. It contacted a representative sample of 1,495 adults, 981 of whom had a major credit card, defined as a card from American Express, Visa, MasterCard or Discover.

Telephone interviews were conducted by landline and cellphone in English and Spanish. The margin of sampling error for the complete set of weighted data is ± 3.1 percentage points, and ± 3.8 percentage points for cardholders.

See related: Confusion high over credit card late fees

Published: March 8, 2016


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Updated: 09-27-2016


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