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5 times haggling is likely to pay

You may be surprised to find out how easy it is to get a better price than the one you're first offered. Here are tips on where deals are and how to get them.

By SmartMoney.com

To get a better deal on your next purchase, all you really need to do is ask.

Thanks to a slowing economy and a subsequent decline in consumer spending, haggling has become a lot easier.

"Practically everything these days is negotiable," says Mary Hunt, the founder of consumer Web site Debt-Proof Living. "Retailers want to move merchandise, even if it's at a discount."

And you don't need to do any fast talking. Most deals can be had with a little research and a few simple tricks.

Here are five expenditures worth haggling over:

1. Medical bills

Getting first-rate medical care doesn't have to mean paying full price. Doctors, labs and other medical providers are often willing to negotiate, with both uninsured patients and those whose insurance only covers a portion of their health expenses, says Jonathan Pletzke, the author of "Get a Good Deal on Your Health Insurance Without Getting Ripped Off." Patients can get 20% to 50% knocked off the price, he estimates. Pletzke's secrets include:

Pay cash upfront. Doctors may offer you the same low rate that they charge insurance companies, if not an even cheaper fee if you agree to pay them at the time of the appointment, Pletzke says. Patients can later file medical claims with their insurers. Say your insurer covers 80% of a $650 root canal (or $520). Negotiate a $450 cash fee before filing the claim, and you've cut your out-of-pocket costs by $40. An uninsured consumer could save $200.

Compare costs. Check your provider's rates against those of other doctors in the area. (You can find local rates through your insurer or via patient posts at OutOfPocket.com.) Often doctors will lower their fees in order to stay competitive. A New Yorker going for an eye exam and contact lens fitting, for example, could pay anywhere from $45 to $69 depending on the eye doctor. Potential savings: $24.

2. Retail stores

You'll have more room to negotiate with independently owned stores, but even big-name chains such as Wal-Mart and Target aren't immune to a little haggling if approached the right way, Hunt says. Here are a couple of strategies to try:

Point out flaws. Floor models, sale items and products with visible damage (like a scuff or missing button) are ripe for discounts. "Most sales associates can offer at least 10% off without a manager's permission," Hunt says. Ask for a bigger cut if the item's problem isn't easily fixable, like a stain or dent.

Be flexible. Substantial flat-out discounts aren't always possible, so ask about extras such as free shipping or an extended warranty. Hunt says she usually initiates negotiations by asking, "Is this the best price I can get on this?" That leaves it to the employee to start suggesting possibilities.

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3. Cars

"It's really a buyer's market right now," says Jack Nerad, the executive editorial director of auto pricing site Kelley Blue Book. "There's plenty of room to negotiate."

The catch: The discount you get depends largely on the make and model you're considering. If you want a car that's in high demand, such as the Toyota Prius, it will be more difficult to persuade the dealer to budge from the sticker price. Other vehicles, such as SUVs, will yield better deals. Here's how to get them:

Incite dealer competition. If you're buying a new car, collect quotes from local dealers. Do this online at Kelley Blue Book or Edmunds.com. Then try to pit the dealerships against one another by e-mailing each with the other's offer. Not only should it help you get a lower price and better financing, but it saves you from the hard sell you'd encounter visiting showrooms in person.

Assess market value. "A used car, because it has a unique history, mileage, etc., is a one-time deal," Nerad says. You can't easily compare it to another, which can make it tough to gauge a fair price. Buyers should use sites like Kelley and Edmunds to estimate the used car's value, then talk up the factors they don't like (i.e., not the ideal color, too many miles) to work down the price.

Continued: Financial aid and tag sales

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