How to Negotiate for a Better Cell Phone Bill

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From rent to electricity to the cost of transportation, your life sometimes feels like one big bill. The last thing you need is an out-of-control cell phone bill. Why pay more than you need to? According to Billshrink, switching cell phone plans could save us nearly $1,000 over two years, including the switching fees.

We can all save more money on our cell phone bills—here’s exactly how:

The Problem: We often hear about great offers from other cell phone companies, but switching carriers is a big pain. Anyway, we’d like to avoid early termination fees. We’d rather just lower the cost of our current cell phone plan.

The Solution: Try a little negotiation. Believe it or not, your phone carrier is probably willing to lower your fees. All you have to do is ask!

The Action: Here are 9 steps to negotiating your bill down to the floor:

1. Catch More Flies With Honey

Don’t get emotional—because doing so probably won’t do anything except add negative notes to your account. Remain brief when explaining why you want a discount.

2. Steer Clear of Yes/No Questions

Asking what the company can do for you puts the ball in its court.

3. Do Your Research

Look at recent bills to see how much of your plan you’re really using, says Beth Kobliner, author of Get a Financial Life. For example, you might not need unlimited text messages, but you’ll want to be sure of that before canceling the service so that you’re not hit with exorbitant overage fees.

4. Analyze the Competition

“Know what the competition is offering and what your current company is offering new users,” Kobliner says. We like sites like Billshrink, LowerMyBills, and Validas to help compare alternative prices from competing companies.

5. Remember That Timing Is Important

“You have the best chance of negotiating with your current carrier near the end of your contract when they’re most desperate to keep you,” Kobliner told us.

6. Tout Your Allegiance

It costs a company way more to acquire new customers than to hang on to the ones it already has. Use that to your advantage. If you’re a long-time customer, remind the rep of that on the phone and explain that you would rather not switch companies—as long as your current one can move things around in your favor.

7. Pull Rank

If the first representative you speak with says there is nothing he or she can do, ask to speak to a manager or someone in the customer cancellation department. “‘Customer cancellation’ is a euphemism for the ‘see what we can do to keep you’-department,” says personal finance expert Manisha Thakor. The reps in this department have the real power to offer you some really good deals.

8. Be Ready to Actually Cancel

But remember that you have to give your cell phone company the permission to cancel your account – so you still technically have the upper hand in negotiations, Thakor adds.

9. Take Notes During Your Conversations

Personal finance blogger Ramit Sethi, who runs IWillTeachYouToBeRich.com, has a helpful spreadsheet to help you keep track of important details while talking to customer service reps. Being able to accurately recall the name of the representatives you have spoken to in the past—as well as the details of those conversations—will make your argument stronger.

A Sample Script.

Customer Service Rep: “Hi, this is Shirley Jones. How can I help you?”

You: “Hi. I’ve been a loyal Verizon customer for five years, but my bill is getting expensive and I was wondering what can you do to help me lower it.”

Customer Service Rep: “Well, I see here that you’re locked in to a two-year contract and still have 13 months to go. There’s nothing we can do until then.”

You: “Well, I was just looking at AT&T…and see I can get a plan with unlimited talk and texts for $70 a month.”

Customer Service Rep: “Can you hold for a moment while I talk to my supervisor?”

You: “Sure.”

Three minutes later…

Customer Service Rep: “Thanks for holding. I’m afraid my supervisor said there’s nothing we can do until the end of your contract.”

You: “Well, I hate to do this, but I think I’ll save more in the long run with AT&T. Can you transfer me to your cancellation department?”

Customer Service Rep: “Of course. Hold on for just one moment.”

Customer Retention Department: “How can I help you?”

You: “Hi. I was just talking to Shirley Jones about lowering my bill and I’d like to cancel my contract…unless there’s anything else you can do for me.”

Customer Retention Department: “Well…I see you’ve been with us for five years. We’d hate to lose you! Let me see what I can do…”

Now, we get good reception on that message.

  • VitaleD

    Why negotiate when you know you can get a better deal somewhere else?!?!? Even with my cancellation fee I'm still gonna save hundreds in the long run. I went to Net10 which is a prepaid service. There isn't a plan that could be customized enough for me and was paying for stuff I wasn't using, plus the ridiculous fees and service costs. Now I can pay for exactly what I'm gonna use and know exactly what my bill will be every month. Just make it a point to take control of your bill, no matter what you do.

  • VitaleD

    Why negotiate when you know you can get a better deal somewhere else?!?!? Even with my cancellation fee I'm still gonna save hundreds in the long run. I went to Net10 which is a prepaid service. There isn't a plan that could be customized enough for me and was paying for stuff I wasn't using, plus the ridiculous fees and service costs. Now I can pay for exactly what I'm gonna use and know exactly what my bill will be every month. Just make it a point to take control of your bill, no matter what you do.

  • http://www.findthebestcarprice.com Amy Cudd

    I've found with both cellular and cable companies that the retention department has the most flexibility to give you credits and put you on a new plan. To save time, ask to cancel immediately (or hit the “cancel” option from the IVR. This will never just cancel you automatically so you'll be able to avoid cancelling if you really don't want to. What it does do however is immediately get you to the people who can actually help. Explain your problem politely and tell them you want to cancel….they will always try to convince you to stay (hopefully with finanical incentive) before actually turning you off. No need to worry because you'll always get the “is this your final answer?” question before they take action.

  • Guest

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  • Beautifullysadistic

    Too bad your advice is seriously unrealistic. Cell phone providers cannot just ‘negotiate’ to give you better rates if you do not like the ones they have. Unless you are willing to go prepaid, you have to choose from what is available. Yes, there may be cheaper plans than what you’re currently using – and no carrier will tell you that you cannot switch just because you are still in contract, but the service providers do not offer ‘a la cart’ services where you can negotiate prices. The prices are what they are, period. nnYes, a ‘retention’ department might be able to offer you an expired plan where a regular representative cannot, but again – you are not negotiating prices.

    • ranavain

      If you’re arguing with someone, and they eventually offer you a plan that costs less than what you were paying… how is that not negotiating price?

      Besides, most customer service reps have the ability to give you credits on your account… when we had an issue with AT&T, I complained, and a first-level CSR gave us a $210 credit for our troubles. Even if it’s not “negotiating price,” that’s still a few months of free service and well worth the time and effort.

    • Ben Rolleman

      blah, I’ve done it. and in 2 months will do it again.

  • Jammy_kenyon

    I don’t know about other countries, but here in the UK the longer you stay with a single carrier the better the deals you get. My Dad, for instance, has never changed mobile provider and has had a contract for the better part of fifteen years. He recently threatened to cancel and was given a top of the range smartphone and an internet allowance as well as having his bill lowered by a quarter – without touching the number of minutes or texts he was getting per month.

    For myself, I’ve switched a few times in the last five years and wouldn’t expect anything like that level of concession, but I’ve still been offered a personallised contract on my first renewal based upon my past useage. There is definitely a lot to be said for giving your current provider a chance before you switch.

  • susanb

    ha. I once had this exact conversation with T-mobile after my phone died and I looked up prices online and in store. The phone I wanted was $20 cheaper online and I would have to wait over a week for it to be delivered, so I called customer service to ask if it would be possible for them to let me have the phone in store for the $20 cheaper price. I talked to so many different people who said that they’d love to keep my business because I’ve been such a loyal customer for so long, but there’s nothing they could or would do. I asked if they could upgrade the shipping so the phone would arrive faster, if I could have a $20 credit, etc., and I pointed out that with the cost of the phone and the wait time, it’d be cheaper for me to pay the $200 cancellation fee and switch to another carrier with a lower monthly bill and a free phone than it would be to stay with them. In the end, that’s what I did!