THE HELP DESK The Help Desk: Top Tips

Score a sweet deal

Now's the time to negotiate lower prices on cars, high-end merchandise and even bank fees.

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By Gerri Willis, CNN personal finance editor

For more information on managing your largest investment, check out Gerri Willis' 'Home Rich,' now in bookstores.

NEW YORK ( -- We all know money is tight these days, but your spending needn't boil down to belt-tightening and sacrifices. It may never be a better time to score a sweet deal and save some cash.

How about getting a car, not just below the sticker or invoice price, but below dealer cost? Transaction prices are down, incentives and cash-back figures are on the rise.

According to data from, last year dealers sold 21% of 2009 models for less than what they paid for them. This year, that number is up to 25%.

Start by arming yourself with as much information as possible -- before you head to the lot. can tell you the "true value" of the car you are interested in --what they call a fair price, based on what other consumers are buying -- plus vehicle inventory, dealer incentives, sales conditions and current economic trends.

Knowing all this information before you go will put you in the driver's seat when it comes time for negotiation. But you have to be prepared to walk away if you're still not seeing eye-to-eye with the salesman.

You can also negotiate bank fees right now. Large national banks have gotten billions from TARP -- your tax dollars -- but you don't have to give them another dime.

Cut your bank fees by avoiding all out-of-network ATMS. And watch out for overdraft fees that can be as high as $40. This is especially important now, since so many people are using debit cards. You can incur multiple overdraft fees in a single day if you don't stay on top of your balance.

Watch out too for account maintenance fees and teller fees -- sometimes charged to those who go to a human teller instead of using an ATM.

And remember, you can always vote with your feet and move to a credit union.

When buying a high-ticket item, don't be off put by haggling, especially if you think that the price doesn't seem fair.

A new poll, out this week as part of a special, "Rebuild Your Finances" issue of Consumer Reports, found that more than two-thirds of Americans have haggled to secure a better price in the last six months.

Here are some tips to improve your haggling skills:

  • Be patient and be nice, as demanding a discount rarely works.
  • Avoid an audience. If everyone else is asking for a deal, chances are you won't get yours.
  • The time to haggle is late in the month when salespeople are trying to meet their quotas. Also early in the morning or evening hours, when clerks have more time to talk.
  • Offer to pay cash. Merchants don't like to pay transaction fees to credit card companies -- anywhere from 2% to 8%. So this might be a great way to get them to cut you some slack.

Got a financial dilemma? Go to to submit questions, read the Help Desk articles and check out new Help Desk videos. And tune in to CNN's Newsroom Tuesdays and Fridays, when Gerri Willis and other experts answer your questions. To top of page

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