Troubleshooter: How to cut your bills

DURHAM Businesses around the country are panicking about losing customers and that could benefit you. Your internet provider, or even your cable company, may be willing to negotiate like never before - meaning lower bills and more money in your pocket.

Take consumer Alan Weinkrantz's case. Bogged down by bills, he is on a mission to save.

"I need to save some money," he explained.

So one household expense at a time, he called service providers and talked tough. The choice: cut my bill or I will cancel my service.

"Things are tough for consumers, but they're also tough for service providers like cable and phone companies and often times it 's better for them to hold on to a customer even though it entails giving them a price break," explained Wall Street Journal consumer expert Vishesh Kumar.

For Weinkrantz, the calls paid off. His phone and cable provider lowered his monthly bill by almost 50 percent. That totals a yearly savings of almost $800. His health club offered $10 off the monthly rate and tacked on a free month. That's a yearly savings of almost $200.

"What I have learned is that these companies are really receptive to working with me to keep me as a customer," said Weinkrantz.

So we asked Weinkrantz how to do it. He said it's important to know your current fees and payment history so you have all the facts at hand when you deal with a company.

When you call, ask for the customer retention department if they have one. They are set up specifically to try to keep your business.

A great leverage technique is to mention competitive offers from other companies. If a company knows you have an alternative, that adds pressure to lower their price to keep you.

"I think most people either don't know they can ask, or are embarrassed to ask, and I don't think there is anything wrong with it," said Weinkrantz.

He said the worst thing that can happen is they say no, and if you're not happy, you can shop around and find another provider.

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