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Here's the previous sections of this romp through my debt-and-LBYMs situation past – they're all LONG (kinda not unlike the process of getting into and out of big old debt itself):

Part I: I owe HOW much?! :
Part II: Budgeting in real life:
Part III: LBYMs as a friend:

So, I've “discovered” we owe that $60K on the credit cards in Part I. Gotten a budget together in Part II. I had stopped using the cards. I had started 'snowballing'. I had adopted a more frugal way of life, and found that I had just that little tiny bit MORE to send each month to the card currently in the cross-hairs in Part III. And my income continued to go up, each new contract providing me with the experience to negotiate just a little bit more into the hourly rate each time. But man, those balances were coming down with all the speed of turtles mired in peanut butter. What ELSE can I do, here?

At this point in my life, I considered my relationship with financial institutions, whether banking or credit, to be a kind of victim to greedy-corporate-predator one. I was helpless, they had the power. They could charge me whatever they wanted, they had me.

To a certain degree, they did. Obviously, I didn't have the ultimate power to just pay it all off and never let them get a dime from me again (oh, if only!). I didn't have the power of options; nobody else was going to loan me the money for better terms, I had no available credit to balance transfer over to, I was just basically kind of stuck with things. Oh alas, for the poor downtrodden peasant…

But something happened to encourage me to change my attitude on that. My bank was charging me $29.99 a month for my checking account. In the spirit of always asking, “Anything cheaper?” I had both taken note of this and decided to see if I could do something about it. Standing beneath a banner that proudly announced that they had 'FREE CHECKING', I asked why I was getting this service charge each month. After all, at this point, I was well over what I thought was the minimum balance of $100 (it was actually $2500 on this account, another banking tip: read everything they give / send you thoroughly!).

“Because that's the kind of account you have.” <you imbecile – she didn't say it, but I sure heard her thinking it!>

“Wellllll…can I have THAT kind (pointing up at the banner)?”

“Ummmm…no. Sorry. Based on your history with us blah blah blah…”

So I went to BankNextDoor and opened a new, free checking account. They required that I set up a direct deposit as part of the deal – no problem! Shoot, I'd prefer it anyway! We shook hands all around and I spent a few weeks getting us all transitioned over to the new account. I then went back to close the original checking account, thinking I wouldn't mind at all having the fresh start with a fresh bank where the tellers wouldn't recognize me as That Woman Who Bounces Checks All The Time Ha Ha Ha.

Oh, wait a second, did we say no? We meant yes, of course you qualify for that!

Hu-duh-uh? But…you just said…you said NO WAY, and you laughed real weird, and…Revelation time: What it is, is not necessarily what it is. What one person says on Tuesday is not necessarily the answer you will get, even from the same person, on Thursday.

Which means that…just because it is what it is right now…doesn't mean…it HAS to be what it is right now…? …I wonder…do you suppose I could…well, I certainly had very little to lose, right? Except maybe a little more skin off my pride?

Back at home, I picked up the first credit card statement that came to hand and found the 800 number 'for customer inquiries.' I picked up the phone. I dialed. I put the speaker to my ear. I rehearsed it in my mind: “Hello <I would say, in my best firm, no-nonsense voice> I would like the interest rate lowered on this account. Can you do that for me please?”

“Good afternoon thank you for calling WeDon', account number?”

“Uh, um, oh, it's…xxx-xx-x-xxxxxxxx-xxx-xxxx-xxz.”

“Thank you. Zip code?”

“Huh? 94102.”

“Mother's maiden name?”

“Fleugeldwitz. I wou-…”

“-THANK YOU, one moment while I access your account your last payment of $65 was received on 8/1, posting on 8/5 you have a current balance of $8,985.28 you have $0.72 available credit and your next minimum payment of $65 will be due on 9/8 would you like to make an instant payment today it is free and I can do it right over the phone.”

“Uuuuuuuuh…” (Deep breath, remain calm, take back the control, take back the control) “Actually, no. No, I would not. I am calling today because, uh, that is I, I looked at the…the statement thingee…here? And the interest rate? On this account? Is? High? Ish?”

<frosty silence>

“I mean, it's pretty high. I mean, it's higher than a lot of things. Yes, it's…well, high. And I was wondering, I mean, because it really is just too high, damn near usurious, actually. I mean, REALLY, I think there are LAWS about…What are you people thinking? How in the world can anybody possibly get ahead in this world, if you people keep doing stuff like this? I have half a mind to contact the government about this! <blah blah blah whining and squealing and thumping my fist in righteous indignation finally winding down to a lame…> …and, uh, so, could you lower it? or something?”

<typity typity typity>

“Oh, nooooo, I'm so sorry, you don't qualify for a rate reduction at this time. Is there anything else I can do for you?”

“Uh, no.”

“Well, thank you for calling WeReallyDon', have a niiiiiice day, buh-bye!” <!CLICK!>

I swear, I could hear the disdainful laughter over the dead connection. And yeah, that's about how it went the first time I tried this. I went off on a rant about how the average 'working American' couldn't possibly and this was subversive, destructive behavior that was going to lead to the destruction of the American people blah blah blah. Whoa. Way not the way to get what you want. Now you've got a pissed off customer service rep who would rather chew on broken glass than do anything nice for you. Not to mention she's probably tripped the 'over-the-line looney' flag on your account, so your interest rates goes UP instead of DOWN.

I didn't try again for a few days. I was still blushing from the first attempt for about a week. But it's amazing what a belly full of Your First Baby can do for you in terms of the chutzpah department – I managed to brave things I never could have done before Herself. Like repeated blood tests, for example. And calling up creditors and requesting interest rate reductions, in spite of the fact that I knew they could see me via the hidden cameras in my apartment and would immediately turn around and say, “Hey everybody, get this one: TamarianG, our Poster Child for lame credit card behavior, wants a interest rate decrease! BWA-hahahahahahaha, oh, MAN, she just KILLS me, hahaha…lemme replay that tape one more time, maybe we should send it to America's Funniest Home Videos whaddya think?…”

Finally, I screwed my courage to the sticking place, gathered all my most-recent statements together in a stack, highlighted in the interest rate and the customer service numbers on them, and wrote out the following statement in nice, big letters on an index card: “I noticed that the interest rate on this account is higher than my other cards. Can you reduce that for me, please?”

I read my little note to nineteen or so customer service representatives that day. All but two said, 'sorry, no' and cut me loose with the admonition to 'have a nice day.' Whether they said yes or no, I would say 'thanks' (albeit with different degrees of enthusiasm) and hang up. That was all I could manage with the civility I feel is due to my fellow human beings unless they've set me off in the first place rather specifically. Which, let's face it, the guy/gal on the other end of that phone had not. They didn't create this problem, and they didn't create the business rules they're following. (Besides, if the video tape they were secretly recording of me ever DID get released to the media, I'd rather not come across as a total witch, ya know?)

I reorganized my snowball by the new interest rates and kept plugging away at it. Three months later, I called again (never let it be said that I am not persistent…remarkably like a toothache, actually). This time, two more cards lowered my rate, and one of them offered me an increased limit and free balance transfer offer if I took advantage of it. I'll never forget how good that felt. I transferred three department store cards, all of which had just purred at me that they were just SO SORRY but !NO!, into that new line increase, dropping the interest on them from 24% to 9.99%. As it just so happened, this card was also one of my biggest balance cards, so the drop from 19.99% to 9.99% made a pretty big difference in the minimum payment liability.

Suddenly, we were actually making some headway. We paid off two smaller high-interest cards that same month and rolled their payments up into the next on the list. I was doing a little victory dance in the tiny clear patch of space we had in the second bedroom of our little apartment, getting smaller every day as my belly (and the stuff we purchased / got gifted with for what was IN the belly) expanded.

Three months later, I called again, targeting any card I had above 9.99%. THIS is what I'm getting elsewhere, can you match it? Some could, some couldn't. But even those that couldn't were starting to play ball a bit. 'Why yes, based on your recent history, I see that I can offer you the following…' I played the balance transfer game, consolidating my debt to lower rates of interest.

Negotiating this way, I cut my interest rates by more than half, at a time when interest rates were going nothing but up (this was pre-dot.gone). By maintaining my 'minimum payments' where they were originally, holding tight to my budget and always keeping myself open to ways to live below our means or increase our means and send the savings to the cards, we started making some really good headway on those credit cards. By the end of Year 1, with many false starts and bizarre happenings in our life (to include having Eldest, moving four times, buying a house [you can imagine THAT process, with so much unsecured debt flapping in the breeze like 'no amount of bleach can help THAT stain' underwear on a line], and losing a car to a vicious accident / buying a new car long before we were really ready to do so), we had shaved $10K off our total unsecured debt.

I was also finding that there were some rewards for my new financial behavior. I got a spontaneous offer from Wells Fargo for a better car loan rate – go figure! I dropped the interest on my car from 14.9% to 6.5%, and reduced the term by a year. I had gone from getting frosty “you've GOT to be kidding me” silence to getting, “Yes, MA'AM!” in just over a year. We were getting better financial offers, both in terms of banking products and credit products. I started finding that the moment I saw a better rate referenced somewhere, I could mention it and usually get a response from somebody. Of course, first I had to notice this better offer, and then I had to ask for it.

Ask. Negotiate. Work with it. Be creative (while remaining legal!). If they won't deal right at this moment, show them you mean it for a little while, and then hit them up again. Persist. Never forget: You deserve every break you can earn for yourself.

And remember to watch out for falling blessings. You start showing that you're ready to handle them, and they'll start falling fast and furious.

NEXT: Learning to use the oven again

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