Dear Kirk: I have held multiple accounts with the same bank for seven years, all in excellent standing, and I’m starting to wonder—how can I get the best value out of my banking relationship? When is it appropriate to request better interest rates on savings accounts and credit cards?
Kirk Says: The banking industry has evolved tremendously over the past five years, and with that evolution has come fierce competition. If you have maintained an excellent relationship by paying credit cards and loans on time, carrying significant deposits with your bank and improving or maintaining an excellent credit score, then it is definitely time to ask for some love in return.
So let’s make a few phone calls. First, do you have a personal banker with your bank that knows you by name? If so, call them and ask them what they can do for you. We aren’t being demanding here, but—and this is true in most cases, not just with banking institutions—it is amazing what benefits we receive just by asking.
The next calls we are going to make will be to competitor banks. Explain to their representatives the specifics of your situation (things like credit score, payment history, and cash available to deposit with their institution). Feel free to reverse the order of these calls so that you are educated with competitor information when you call your current bank.
One important thing to remember when you are making your calls is that the best deals will be obtained as you go up the food chain, so to speak. The first representative you speak with is probably not empowered to effectively negotiate with you. Listen to what they have to offer and then ask to speak to their manager or even a credit analyst.
The first things to remember when dealing with interest rates on credit cards is that the rates are almost always variable. Typically, they are somehow tied to the prime rate (the rates banks charge each other to borrow money). With this information in hand, banks will frequently offer promotional rates that you can take advantage of. However, these are promotional rates and may disappear at the end of the promotion. That being said, promotional rates can still be a great bargain for you if you are carrying a balance, because you can lower the interest rate and work toward paying off that balance faster.
On the other hand, if you are in good standing and don’t carry monthly balances, the interest rates don’t carry as much weight for you—unless you are considering making a big purchase that may require you to carry a balance for a specific period of time.
When it comes to getting the best rates on savings accounts, money market accounts, and CD’s—more is more. The more cash you have to put into a particular bank, the better rates they will offer you on those deposit products. This is also a good reason to call, because sometimes the total cash may get overlooked because it is being held in separate accounts.
In sum, it is absolutely appropriate to take steps to ensure you are getting the best value from your banking relationship—especially if you have long-term accounts in good standing. You can’t go wrong by making a few phone calls. And this same advice holds true with cable television providers, investments, insurance, even mobile phone service.
Kirk Gwaltney is a Chartered Financial Consultant and a Chartered Life Underwriter in Brentwood, Tenn. Learn more about him at kirkgwaltney.com.