One of the financial tips I've passed on to my children is the concept that "it never hurts to ask."
I was reminded of this during a recent online chat. Every Thursday, during my live discussions, I encourage people to share a testimony. It's my way to get good news amid all the accusing and aggrandizing we see in politics. (With the release of the Republicans' recent tax reform, get ready for a lot of arguing about money.)
Anyway, a reader wanted to share something under the headline, "It never hurts to ask."
"A few months ago, I traveled a toll road and realized that I had inadvertently left my E-ZPass transponder at home. Even though I had traveled only a few exits, I had to pay the full turnpike toll at my exit. It was around $44. The turnpike worker said this happens all the time, and he gave me a form for me to request a refund. He said it was probably a long shot to get a refund since this was my mistake, but 'you never know.' I submitted the refund form, owning up to my mistake and saying that I hoped they would have mercy on me because I certainly learned my lesson. I got a refund of $37 in the mail! I know it's a small amount, but that made my day, and I realized it never hurts to ask."
A number of folks reminded the person that he or she could have used the E-ZPass lane and settled up later after explaining the situation. But the point is that it's OK to ask for grace.
I put out a call for other stories of "it never hurts to ask."
Loved this one: "Over a Thanksgiving visit with family, my wife and I took a bunch of nieces/nephews (8 to 15 age range) to see the new King Kong movie. About 20 minutes in, we realized that it was way too scary and violent for the younger kids, and decided to leave. On a whim, my wife asked the theater if we could get a refund (long shot!). We got one. For all the tickets, it was well over $100."
Ask and you might receive — such as in this story: "I did that with Verizon when my spouse traveled to Canada. We set up an international plan that only cost a pittance for his calls there, but I found out he had made a bunch of trip-planning calls in advance of the trip, which were charged at the regular (higher) rate. While I was chatting with the service rep to set up the plan for his trip, I said. 'Gee, I wish I had known about those planning calls, I would have signed up for the international plan earlier.' I honestly wasn't expecting anything. The rep adjusted the charges on the spot."
Ask when the unexpected happens: "One year we paid our taxes late because our second child came early. I paid as soon as I could, then wrote to the IRS (and included a photo of both cute kiddos) explaining what happened. They sent us a one-time refund of most of the penalty and interest! I sent a copy of their letter with a similar letter to my state tax authorities and they gave us a refund too! Never hurts to ask or include cute photos — maybe use cats if you don't have kids!"
Another story about taxes: "My Fairfax County business tax is due March 1. One year I was late. I sent the full payment with the late fee. I wrote a note explaining that my mother had died the Friday before and I left town in a hurry. I wasn't asking for a refund, just that I not be reported to a credit agency for a late payment. A couple months later, I received a check refunding the penalty amount with a yellow sticky note that said, 'So sorry for your loss.'"
After this last testimony, I'd like to end with a caution from a reader who got asked a lot.
"I've worked retail and customer service positions for years, and people expecting compensation for their own mistakes is really difficult to deal with — not just because they are often rude, but oftentimes the employee they are dealing with doesn't have the ability or authority to do so. So, yes, it never hurts to ask, but please stress that no company or employee is obligated to do so."
If it's the company's mistake, definitely ask. But if it's your fault, don't demand. Be humble. And don't grumble when the answer is no.
Readers can write to Michelle Singletary c/o The Washington Post, 1150 15th St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20071. Her email address is email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at SingletaryM or Facebook at facebook.com/MichelleSingletary.