But Linda Sherry, the director of national priorities for the nonprofit Consumer Action, cautions that people should be careful about discussing finances with the card companies. "If you believe you won't make the payment, you should call and talk [to the creditor], but it's a double-edged sword," Sherry says, explaining that companies use risk-based pricing and might end up seeing your phone call as an opportunity to hike your rates. "Do you really want them to know you're in trouble before you've figured out that you can't solve the problem any other way?" Sherry asks.
If you're sure to miss otherwise, you have nothing to lose by picking up the phone. When begging a customer service representative for mercy, it might help to invoke the laws on your side. "The Truth and Lending Act encourages banks to help people in financial difficulties with their loans and credit cards," Sherry says. "It's not pointed, but it's there." You can read it here to get ideas for arguments to pose. Another law that might help is the Fair Credit Billing Act, which you can read here.
Your odds of success at negotiating for a break will depend on your situation. For free, nonlegal advice from Consumer Action on how to best cope with your specific case, describe your problem in a voicemail message at (415) 777-9635 or (213) 624-8327. They'll research the matter according to the laws of the state in which you live.
You're not done even if you manage to win a concession. Jerrold Mundis, the author of How to Get Out of Debt, Stay Out of Debt, and Live Prosperously, recommends getting all promises in writing. "Odds are, 50% of the time you'll make an agreement that gets lost in the chain of notation," Mundis warns. "You'll think everything is fine and then, suddenly, you get a past due notice."