April 16, 2010 at 9:00 AM ETIn the past month, Red Tape Chronicles readers have taken on a long list of consumer booby traps – laid by phone companies, pay TV companies, banks and others – and WON! The mountain of success stories from the Red Tape Fight Pledge group on Facebook is so high we decided to pick a top 10 list and share them with you here in the hope that you'll be inspired to use some of the same techniques.
But before we get to that, The Red Tape Fight Pledge has been so successful that we’ve decided to keep it going, with only a small change. The group is now being called the Red Tape Fight Club. Already, more than 1,000 super-consumers are signed up, and they will form the backbone of a self-help group designed to be a standing army of consumer advocates, ready to help any victim get economic justice when locked in a battle with a stubborn company. Group members will share tips, tricks, phone numbers and any other technique that can be used to help you get a fair deal. Anyone can join and post questions, looking for help. Some members will prove themselves to be subject matter experts and volunteer to be captains.
The Red Tape Fight Club is designed to be self-sustaining, run by members. I will chime in often if I have helpful advice. But 1,000 brains are better than one. Click here to join, or just to see what's going on.
Now, on to some individual success stories.
Linda Keith is a 55-year-old single mom of five (only one left at home) from Varina, Virginia, looking to keep control of her expenses. When her monthly TV bill with DirecTV hit $70, she took action.
"(I) told them I was going to cancel and they gave me a $50 credit and lowered my bill from $69 a month to $29 for a year. Then it will zoom back up but for now this is a deal," she said. "They also gave me Starz free for 6 months. ... it took me no time at all. All I did was ask."
Keith apparently has money-saving genes.
"My daughter also did the same thing with a different cable company and is saving $70 per month on telephone, cable and internet," she said.
2. Credit card annual fee
Melissa Triemstra of Dyer, Indiana, is one of millions of consumers who've seen their credit card costs raised through higher interest rates, lower credit card limits or new fees. But she didn't stand for it.
"I noticed the annual fee charge -- $39 -- on my online account balance so I called them up right away," she said, referring to the card issuer, First Financial Bank. "(I) nicely told them that I had other cards and really didn't feel that I needed to pay an annual fee on any of them. They put a note on my account saying not to ever charge me an annual fee. They were real nice and quick about it."
3. No late fees = $2,000 slush fund
Russell Luepnitz of Winfield, Alabama, canceled his cable service and saved $40 per month. But he took an even bigger step – he used technology to help him avoid penalty fees.
"I have already saved $300 over the last year because I have paid on time or switched to electronic withdrawal on small bills like water," he said. The savings add up to $300 over last year. As a reward, he opened a new savings account for all the saved cash. Adding up the cable, late fee savings and his self-imposed restrictions on "ridiculous purchases," he's got $2,000 in that slush fund now.
4. Kept talking to get unlimited minutes deal
Ray of Taylorsville, Utah, 63, ran into typical trouble when upgrading from a "dumb phone" to a "smart phone." He was spending $70 per month for 1,500 minutes and was about to add pricey Web services to his phone. He didn't want a triple-digit phone bill, but $120 per month was staring him in the face.
"(I had to) continually pester T-Mobile and finally resort to a threat of leaving their customer herd before they began offering me plans with unlimited minutes and unlimited Web access," said Ray, who asked that his last name be withheld. "After discussing the issue with several reps and finally telling them that I'd look elsewhere, they seemed to find that there was a 'long-term customer option' that gave me unlimited minutes for $50-a-month and then the standard unlimited Web access for $25. The bottom line being that for $5 more per month I no longer have to worry about limits on either type of connection. ... I ended up with a better package for close to what I was already paying."
5. Worth it to cancel home phone service
Shana Martin, 30, of Centerville, Indiana, decided to take the plunge and cut her home telephone cord after realizing that she could live with cell phone service only. It wasn't easy, but it will save her more than $200 a year.
"I called Verizon once or twice a week for two months trying to cancel my land line," she said. "I first tried doing it online, but they said I had to call. But I would be on hold for so long -- 30 minutes or more -- that I would hang up frustrated." She finally had luck by calling at night.
"I asked to cancel the line and they asked why but didn't offer any incentives to keep it. It only took about 3 minutes to get it canceled. I saved about $18 a month by getting rid of the phone. … My advice for others would be to not stop trying. It's hard to find time to stay on hold or call back repeatedly, but in the end the money saved is worth it.
6. From VOIP to Skype to save
Michelle Brinkman Stevens of Austin, Texas dropped one new-fangled phone service for another and and will save $228 in the next 12 months.
"We dropped cable VOIP phone and went with AT&T basic service," she said. "Now (we) pay Skype to do calls to domestic land or cell phone." Their $45-a-month bill is now a $20 local phone bill and a $6 monthly Skype bill. "Monthly savings of $19. Works for me."
7. Comcast phone and Internet savings
Stephen Ham of Nashville knocked $10 per month off his phone and Internet service bill with a call to Comcast. He threatened to cancel service if he didn't get a better deal.
"Not as much as I had hoped but worth the effort." he said.
8. Keep the 'promotional price' after trial period ends
Zohar Laor, like most pay TV consumers, signed up when the cable company was offering a discounted trial offer. But when the trial period ended and his rate went up, he got on the phone.
"I lowered my cable bill by about $20 a month," he said. "I called and they gave me the 'current promotion' price and I put my name on a list to be called if a better promotion is available."
Gregory Yurevitch has a similar experience with Comcast.
"(I) asked Comcast to lower my bill, which they wouldn't do. However, they would extend existing promotional pricing, which is the same thing," he said. He saved $25 per month, or $300 per year.
9. Don't stand for FIOS rate increases
Timothy Thorn of Wilmington, Delaware, called Verizon after the firm raised his monthly fee $10. He ended up saving money and getting better service.
"I explained I was a good, pay-on-time customer and would have to cancel service unless I got my old rate back," he said. "The service person hemmed and hawed but I was firm about having to cancel service. Finally she came back with my old rate - $44.99 - and double the current speed. I did have to commit for a year."
10. Discount on set-top boxes
Skip Frank of Flower Mound, Texas, used the threaten-to-cancel tactic with Verizon for his TV and Internet service package. He had mixed results, but still came out ahead.
"The best I got was a $4.99 credit per month for one of our set-top boxes," he said. "Not what I'd hoped for, but better than a sharp stick in the eye."