How to Negotiate Bills and Fees During Coronavirus Pandemic

Tarrah Gibbons
May 12, 2020 - 5:06 pm
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The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the lives of millions of Americans across the United States, including their finances.

In April, the unemployment rate jumped to 14.7 percent - the worst it has been since the Great Depression.

More than 33.5 million American workers have filed for benefits since the stay-at-home orders went into effect in mid-March

In addition, keeping up with rent and credit card payments during the coronavirus pandemic can be extremely stressful.

Ramit Sethi, personal finance expert and author of the New York Times bestselling book "I Will Teach You To Be Rich," told Today that consumers should know it is not too late to negotiate finances. He said many people are struggling with their funds, and companies know this.

"Companies are willing to cut deals in certain cases so that they can collect some amount of money and retain you as a customer," Sethi said.

When negotiating your finances, Sethi said you should follow a three-part strategy that includes cutting costs, earning more, and optimizing your spending.

With places across the country still closed, Sethi said people should look at what they have planned for the rest of the year (such as trips and gym memberships) and evaluate how cutting those costs could provide funds to be used in the present moment. He also said it is essential to focus on building security and emergency funds and not worry as much about any cancellation fees.

Sethi also recommends contacting credit card, cell phone, cable and student loan companies to renegotiatie rates and fees.

Before reaching out to delay a payment or to get a fee waived, Sethi recommends doing basic research on your accounts. It is vital to know information about how long you have been a customer.

"Front-load the work — 80% of the work is done before you ever make that phone call," Sethi said.

Another good tip to follow is being aware of other options and competitors.

Sethi advises people to follow this phone script:

"Hi, my name is Ramit. I've been a good customer for three years. I'm having financial difficulty due to coronavirus, and I'd like to hear what options you have available for someone like me."

If that doesn't work, he suggests trying again by reaching out directly to the customer retention department.

When people talk with a landlord about their rent, Sethi urges people to treat the conversation like a business arrangement. If you are having trouble paying your lease due to COVID-19, ask what options can be made available to you.

"I think renters should also know that landlords aren't under any obligation to do that," Sethi said. "Negotiation is a dance. You should ask, but no one is under any obligation to say yes."

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