Poll: It's easy to get rid of credit card fees if you ask

Men, Midwesterners and those with higher education, income have the best success rates

Michelle Crouch
Personal Finance Writer
Her work appears regularly in Reader’s Digest, Parents, Real Simple and more.

Poll: It's easy to get rid of credit card fees if you ask

 

The terms of your credit card may be printed in black and white, but a new CreditCards.com survey reveals that they are not written in stone.

Whether you want to reverse a late fee, increase your credit limit, reduce your interest rate or even skip paying an annual fee, the poll shows that if you ask, your credit card company is highly likely to say yes.

However, despite a high chance of success, only a small number of cardholders are making each type of request.

“The competition for credit card customers among banks has been increasing, and that puts customers in a stronger negotiating position,” says Alex Johnson, director of solution marketing at FICO. “The lesson is, it never hurts to ask. The worst thing that can happen is they say 'no.'"

Poll findings

The poll surveyed 1,589 adults in the United States who currently are credit card holders (see methodology). They were asked if they ever attempted to reach out to their card issuer to either waive or reduce a card's annual fee, reverse a late payment fee, lower a credit card's interest rate or raise a card's credit limit. The number of cardholders who make such requests is small, even though the survey shows that when you ask, you have a good chance of getting what you want.

The survey found that:

  • 85 percent who asked received a higher credit limit.
  • 84 percent who asked got a late fee waived.
  • 70 percent who asked had an annual fee waived or lowered.
  • 56 percent who asked got a lower interest rate (APR).

Men have more success

The survey found that, overall, men have a somewhat easier time than women persuading issuers to agree to a change. About 91 percent of men got at least one “yes” when they asked, compared to 86 percent of women.

The gender gap is especially apparent when it comes to getting a credit limit increase. Men are more likely to make the request (48 versus 37 percent), and they’re also more successful when they do. Nine out of 10 men – but only 78 percent of women – got a higher limit when they asked, according to the poll. 

The gender differences in the study are consistent with other surveys that have found women are less likely to ask for what they want financially, in large part because they can be perceived as pushy or aggressive when they make such requests, says Kathleen Burns Kingsbury, a wealth psychology expert and author of  “Breaking Money Silence: How to Shatter Money Taboos, Talk More Openly about Finances, and Live a Richer Life.”

Women also have a harder time qualifying for bank loans and lines of credit than men, Burns Kingsbury says.

“The hope is that banks and credit card companies will train their staff around unconscious bias and set up systems to reduce these gender inequities,” she says. “Also, women need to learn how to break their money silence and ask for what they want financially – even if it is uncomfortable – in order to take care of themselves and their families.”

Issuer decisions made on a case-by-case basis

Most credit card companies allow a certain number of late payment fee waivers, typically one every six months, with no questions asked, says Michael Moeser, director of payments strategies at Javelin Strategy & Research.

Other decisions are typically made on a case-by-case basis. Issuers may take into account your spending on the card, your payment history and whether you keep your balance at a safe level relative to the amount of credit you have available.  “If you’re in good standing, if you make money for the bank because you’re revolving or if you simply spend a lot of money on the card, clearly they’re more inclined to say yes,” Moeser says.

Indeed, the survey shows that the more education and income you have, the more likely you are to request and be approved for a higher credit limit increase or a lower interest rate.

Michael Bessler of Bollingbrook, Illinois, says he always thought credit card annual fees were non-negotiable. Then he read in a blog post that some customers were successfully getting the fee removed. He promptly called Barclays Bank, asked nicely, and the representative dropped the $89 annual fee on his AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite Mastercard.

“Getting a $450 fee waived would take a lot of sugar on top. You’d have to be a million-mile member who charges a lot to the card.”

“I was surprised it was so easy,” Bessler says. “But I think it’s important for them to see that you are spending on the card. My wife had the card, too, and they wouldn’t drop her fee because she hadn’t used her card much.”

High annual fees on rewards cards tend to be tougher to remove because they help issuers recoup the cost of the rewards, Moeser says. “Getting a $450 fee waived would take a lot of sugar on top,” Moeser says. “You’d have to be a million-mile member who charges a lot to the card.”

Customer service reps may offer to lower your fee instead of waive it, or they may offer miles or some other benefit rather than removing the fee. The survey found 51 percent of cardholders who asked got their annual fee waived, while another 19 percent got it lowered.

Why aren’t more people asking?

About 60 percent of cardholders have requested at least one of the listed perks, the survey shows. But the number making each type of request is low: About 43 percent have asked for a higher credit limit, the most popular request, while only 18 percent have asked for an annual fee waiver, the rarest request.

Why aren’t more people making these requests when their chance of success is high? For one thing, many simply don’t know it’s an option.

Lack of knowledge was the top reason cited by those who have never asked for the removal of an annual fee or a late fee, according to the poll. About four in 10 respondents said they didn’t know they could ask for either type of fee waiver, and about a third said they didn’t think they would be successful.

Millennials and Gen Xers are especially likely to be in the dark. Compared to other generations, they had the highest percentages saying they didn’t know they could ask for each type of request.

About 1 in 3 millennials who didn’t ask for an interest rate reduction said they didn’t know that they could, while 1 in 5 said the same thing about a credit limit increase.

Baby boomers and members of the silent generation, by contrast, were more likely to say they didn’t ask for those changes because they were happy with the terms of their cards.

Other survey findings

Here are a few more interesting data points from the poll:

  • Midwesterners get a “yes” more often than people from other geographic regions. They have a 94 percent success rate, compared to 89 percent in the West, 87 percent in the Northeast and 86 percent in the South.
  • Affluent cardholders ($80,000 a year or more) are least likely to ask for an annual fee to be waived, perhaps because it’s not a hardship for them to make the payment. Forty percent of those in that income bracket who have a card with an annual fee say they’ve never asked for the fee to be removed, compared to about 32 percent of less affluent respondents.
  • The silent generation leads the pack when it comes to paying their bills on time. Sixty-eight percent say they’ve never made a late payment, compared to 50 percent of baby boomers, 43 percent of Gen Xers and 48 percent of millennials.
  • More Generation Xers (ages 38-53) admit to getting hit with late fees compared to other generations, but they’re less likely to ask for a waiver. About 28 percent say they’ve never asked for a late fee to be removed, compared to 20 percent of baby boomers and millennials, and 14 percent of the silent generation.

No matter what generation you’re a member of, the poll shows it’s worth taking a few minutes to call your issuer if you’ve been slapped with a fee or you’re not happy with the terms of your card – because your chances of success are high.

Methodology: The CreditCards.com poll was an online survey of 2,194 adults, of whom 1,589 use a major credit card for personal expenses. It was fielded by the market research firm YouGov. Survey results were weighted to be representative of the U.S. population. It was conducted April 5, 2018.

See related: 6 things to know before requesting a credit-line increase, 8 ways to negotiate better credit card fees, interest and debt


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Updated: 09-25-2018