How Can I Negotiate with AT&T?
May 20, 2009 8:01 PM   Subscribe

How Can I Negotiate With AT&T? Anyone else with experience dealing with AT&T?

I lost my job last year. Got a bit behind on phone/cell/DSL bill, which is $180/month for my husband and I. I called them and explained the problem, and they were cooperative about my offering to pay installments every week.

Well, now we owe the AT&T overlords $770. Everything was fine until my husband tried to use his cell phone and was immediately routed to AT&T's accounts receivable. Same deal on my phone. Uh oh.

I've already tried to get a lower-cost plan with them, and considering we have land and cell (we cannot cut out the land line as cell reception is spotty in the house, plus we need a land line for the DSL) phones, and one of them is an iPhone-- I'm told this is as low a plan as we can get. Not sure I believe that.

I will call them tomorrow and try to straighten this out. We cannot pay it in full right now. The money is just not there. Before I call, what can I do to plead my case? I feel pretty sick right now.
posted by miltoncat to Work & Money (12 answers total)
You say you already made an agreement to pay in installments. What happened to that? Have you been sticking to that agreement and now they've suddenly bailed on it?
posted by winston at 8:13 PM on May 20, 2009

Not really a solution, but why not put this on a credit card? I'd rather pay interest for like 60 days on this instead of hurting my credit, assuming you haven't done so already.
posted by floam at 8:13 PM on May 20, 2009

It doesn't help solve your problem in the short term, but you may want to consider ditching cell phones completely. If money is that tight for you, those phones seem like a serious luxury item that you could probably do without. We all survived just fine before the existence of cell phones!
posted by blaneyphoto at 8:42 PM on May 20, 2009

Second getting rid of the phone. If you're that tight on cash, a cell phone is a luxury you can do without.
posted by jaden at 8:45 PM on May 20, 2009

Different situation, but I know of a retired attorney who simply dared AT&T to collect its cancelation fees, after switching to another service. He wrote them a letter proposing they meet halfway on a compromise fee. He didn't hear anything again, except for threats from a third-party collection agency, which never followed through on its sound and fury.

Important to remember that AT&T are not overlords, as much as they try to come off that way--don't be scared of them. Anyway, I was always inspired by how this lawyer treated AT&T as no more or less entitled to his money than a storekeeper down the road.
posted by Kirklander at 8:47 PM on May 20, 2009

Sounds like you don't really have much room for negotiation. You owe them nearly $800 - about four months behind according to your $180\month quote. Sell the iPhone and get prepaid cell services. Pay ATT back according to your weekly agreement. I wouldn't try kirklander's advice to dare them to collect.
posted by sanko at 9:01 PM on May 20, 2009

You could probably switch to a PAYGO cell phone and save at least tens of dollars a month. They do have a build-your-own bundle method -- you may have to settle for a lower-speed DSL line and go to a basic long-distance plan, but I see no reason why you can't end up with a bill much lower than $180/mo. even with cell service. Unless you're actually, say, running a business off one of those services, in which case ... I dunno.
posted by dhartung at 9:01 PM on May 20, 2009

I have at&t with one iphone and one standard phone, and pay $50 less than you a month. And I have the unlimited text on the iphone (which is optional), and a data plan on the non-iphone. They're full of shit.

Log into the site, go to "manage" and then "rate plan."
Under that you can change to the family talk 550 min/month plan, which is less than you pay now.
posted by Kellydamnit at 9:32 PM on May 20, 2009

Kellydamnit, the bill also includes a home phone line and DSL internet.
posted by halogen at 10:38 PM on May 20, 2009

regarding Kirklander's advice about bailing on AT&T and ignoring the debt;

A former roommate is being harassed by the agency that AT&T sells debt to over an account that AT&T failed to cancel on request at the end of the lease. This is occurring over an amount much smaller than yours. AT&T's pet collections agency does not sound like nice people from what I've heard about this. Fortunately, telecom debt expires two years after it originates, regardless of who buys it in the meantime, so I think it's become a waiting game and a "what does my poor 20-something self need great credit for anyways?" mindset.

If you go this route you should be prepared for a really nasty collections group armed with all of the contact information you gave to AT&T coming after you. Also the inevitable hit to your credit score.
posted by Derive the Hamiltonian of... at 12:47 AM on May 21, 2009

Before you call, you need to have a clear idea of what you want AT&T to do, and you need to have a clear idea of what sort of bargain you might actually be able to hold up your end of. You can't just say 'we need all these services but we can't pay for them' and expect to get anywhere. Nthing that you should probably be prepared to ditch some part(s) of the service you're getting -- probably the cell phones. You can negotiate some sort of repayment plan for the overdue parts of the bill, but it seems clear that you can't afford the services you're getting.
posted by jon1270 at 4:01 AM on May 21, 2009

The idea of canceling your account is a good one; when customer service hears that you want to cancel the will route you to the save team, who have more authority to cut deals to keep you as a customer. I don't know how well that will work for someone already $800 behind, but I have successfully used that route for less serious disputes.
posted by TedW at 4:42 AM on May 21, 2009

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