Sally Herigstad is a certified public accountant and the author of “Help! I Can’t Pay My Bills: Surviving a Financial Crisis” (St. Martin’s Press, 2006). She writes “To Her Credit,” a weekly reader Q&A column about issues involving women, credit and debt, for CreditCards.com, and also wrote for MSN Money, Interest.com and Bankrate.com, and has guested on Martha Stewart Radio and other programs.
Dear To Her Credit,
I have heard numerous times that if you have overall good credit, you should ask your credit card company to lower your interest rate. What is the best way to go about this? Is it likely they will lower my rate or should I even bother?
Yes — you can just ask for a lower credit card interest rate, especially if you have been diligent about making all your payments on time. In fact, I did it myself. Here’s how!
We have three cards, so I decided to see if I could ask for and get lower interest rates by making a phone call. The customer service representative at the first bank told me he had to talk to my husband Gary because he’s the primary cardholder. Fortunately, Gary was home. The rep told Gary he could lower the rate by 1.75 percent, to 17.99 percent — the prime rate plus 12.74 percent. He said, “That will get you started in the direction you want to go.” He said we could call again in six to eight months and get it lowered again, but 1.75 percent is the most they’ll lower it at one time (1.75 percent may not sound like much, but if you carried a $5,000 balance, that could save you about $90 a year.)
That was easy! I called the next one, which is in my name. I listened to bad music for about 20 minutes and finally got a representative. When I started to say I’ve had this account for 10 years, she broke in, “I know what you’re going to ask. You want a lower interest rate.”
“Yes,” I said. “I wondered if you had a better rate or a different plan.”
“You already have the lowest rate,” she said. “In fact, it just went down from 20.15 percent to 19.15 percent.”
“So there’s nothing you can do?”
“No, but you can speak to a supervisor.”
She transferred me to a man who said the same thing — I already have the best rate. He added that it’s 10.19 percent over the prime rate.
Off the phone, I realized that the prime rate has not been 9 percent (19 percent minus 10 percent) in some time! I called back and talked to a third representative — a friendly woman with a Southern accent. I explained that my rate is supposed to be prime rate plus 10.19 percent. The prime rate is currently 5.25 percent; therefore, my rate should be 15.34 percent, not 19.15 percent. She said the prime rate was almost 9 percent the last time they changed the rate a year ago. She said store cards don’t follow the same rules as regular bank cards. She added, “Everybody knows store cards have higher APRs (annual percentage rates).” I didn’t think everybody knew that. She said, “Well, they should!”
This was taking more time than I expected, mostly because of long hold times. I found the statement for my third card and discovered the interest rate was 1.9 percent. I can live with that. No more phone music today!
• It’s easy to ask for lower interest rates, but it takes time. Call when you have at least half an hour per card.
• Before you call, know the current prime rate.
• The primary cardholder probably needs to be there.
• Some cards have more leeway than others. Store cards and cards that give perks might be less flexible.
• If you don’t get what you want, write a letter. I still think my department store card rate is too high, but rather than talking to a fourth person, I’ll write. More importantly, I’ll pay that card balance off every month from now on. They can make the interest rate as high as they want, but they can’t make me carry a balance!
• Call the bank again in six months or a year and ask again, whether you got a lower rate or not.
Go ahead and call your credit card companies! Listening to phone music for most of your lunch break may be a small trade for paying less interest on your credit card balances.
See related: Credit card etiquette: How to politely win when credit card disputes arise, 6 credit card terms you can negotiate and change, 4 tips for negotiating for better credit card terms, Want a lower rate? Just ask!
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