Here's something you can do on your lunch break that will pay for the sandwich you eat while on it.
Call up your credit card company and ask them to waive a recent late fee. While you're at it, ask them to cut your interest rate.
According to a new CreditCards.com study, you've got a pretty good chance now of getting what you want.
In their recent phone survey, nine out of ten borrowers who asked to get a late fee waived were successful. And two out of three who asked for a lower interest rate got it. But only about one in four had asked for either.
Those numbers were so shocking I had to try it myself.
I called up American Express. A woman named Paula answered. A busy call center clattered in the background. I told her that I had gotten a late fee recently. Could she waive it as a "one-time courtesy?"
She wanted to know why. "Did you not receive our billing notification on time?" asked Paula. I told her my wife and I had miscommunicated about scheduling the payment.
There was a pause.
"Some how my system has waved it off," said Paula. But there was hope. "I see that your account has maintained in excellent condition. I do not want you to pay for something you're not liable for."
After putting me on hold, Paula she told me she had checked with her supervisor and they would call me back in 24-48 hours to let me know their decision. Chalk that one up as a "maybe."
Next I asked if she could lower my interest rate. After missing some payments this summer, I was getting hit with a 27.4 percent APR. Could she lower it to the 19.4 percent I used to get? "It would help me out," I said, the only explanation I gave.
Paula put me on hold again. This time she came back quicker than before.
"I have excellent news," she said. "We have got it lowered now back to 19 percent." Per American Express policy, it will apply to both future purchases and my existing balance.
Carrying around $2,000 on this card, this 10-minute phone call will save me $13 a month on my monthly payment. Ham and cheese sandwich: paid for.
With success this easy, it's boggling why more people don't give it a shot.
"People are busy and it may not necessarily be the top thing in their mind," said Matt Schulz, CreditCards.com’s senior industry analyst. They also might not have the courage to do it, or even know that they can.
But for those who do, the savings can be considerable.
The average credit card late fee is $35. Get that back and you can upgrade the sandwich you munched while on hold to a steak.
Similarly, if you're carrying a balance of $5,000 and getting charged a 19 percent interest rate, getting it cut down to 11 percent will chop your monthly finance charges from $79 to $45.
For those carrying $15,000 in debt, the average credit card debt load, the savings can be even higher. For them, the same interest rate reduction would chop their monthly payments by $100.
Now is a good time to ask. According to a recent survey of bank loan officers conducted by the Federal Reserve, lending standards have gotten looser in the past six months. Furthermore, consumers racked up $66 billion in credit card debt between the first and second quarters of this year. The run up is the largest in the past six years. That means shoppers are more bullish about spending, and bankers are more willing to extend credit.
There are some caveats.
Older customers with higher incomes were more likely to be successful, according to the CreditCard.com survey results, since lenders give higher credit ratings to customers with longer credit histories and higher incomes.
Depending on your card's policies your new lower rate might not apply to your existing balance. So even if you fight for a lower rate, your monthly payment won't go down by much at all. That's the case for Discover customers, said spokeswoman Jenna DiMaria.
But by and large in the industry a lower rate will apply to existing balances, said American Bankers Association spokesman Jeff Sigmund, as long as the customer has a good credit history.
Most importantly, you have qualify for the lower rate. Banks aren't doing it just to be nice.
Your creditworthiness has to be such that if you went to a different credit card company and applied, they would also give you the same lower rate based on their risk assessment models, said Melinda Opperman, a spokeswoman for Springboard, a non-profit credit counseling service.
Just because you've become less "risky" doesn't mean anyone is going to do you the favor and lower your existing credit card's rate.
"You have to be your own advocate," said Opperman.