Scrabble tiles spell out the word leverage

What Is Leverage—and How Does Cushion Use It For Your Negotiation?

By Brooke Vaughan // June 1, 2021

Let’s talk about possibly the most boring thing in the universe for a second.

Are you feeling simultaneously stuck and suffocated by your financial institution, utilities provider, landlord, and other expenses? Like every last bit of your paycheck is going toward bills and fees?

We’ve got news for you. Most of those bills and fees you’re paying—they’re negotiable. (Not so boring now, huh?) Gas, phone, bank accounts, and credit cards do not come free, but you’re likely paying more than you need to. All it takes to get those costs down is a call and a little negotiation. But before you make the call, remember: Leverage is the key to success in these situations.

What Is Leverage?

In negotiations, leverage is an argument used to persuade another party to shift a decision in your favor.

No, argument doesn’t have to mean beet-red cheeks and steam rolling out of your ears. In fact, you should try to avoid looking like an angry cartoon character.

Your main goal is to convince the other party of why you’re right or why they’re wrong, all in a very cool, calm, and collected manner. When negotiating fees or bills, some points of leverage might include:

  • Have you been financially affected by COVID-19?
  • Are you a loyal customer who has been with the bank or service for an extended period of time?
  • Do you have multiple open accounts with the bank or service?
  • Do you make regular deposits or payments?
  • Do you have a friend or family member who is paying less for the same service?


Even if you rightfully acquire a fee—let’s say you overdraw your account and receive a penalty fair and square—you can still use leverage points to convince the representative to waive these fees. 

Why Is Leverage Important?

Leverage increases the chance that a negotiation will end in the way that you’d like it to. If you walk into a negotiation without leverage, you likely lack a plan for how you will sell your argument to the other party. Chances are that your conversation will be unproductive, possibly emotional, or even unsuccessful.

With each valid point of leverage, it becomes more difficult for a representative to deny a refund. Leverage ebbs and flows, though, so you may be in dance with your bank or service at times of who has the upper hand.

5 Ways to Strengthen Your Leverage

Having a point of leverage is not always enough to secure a win. Your bank’s policy and the representative that you speak with heavily impact whether or not you’ll get a refund. However, carefully planning your argument can increase your chances of success.

1. Prepare thoroughly

Before you get on the phone, have ready: your name, account number, the fees or bill that you’d like to negotiate, and when they occurred. Being prepared will show the representative that you mean business.

Cushion’s ⚛️ Fee Genius breaks down your fees so you know which ones have already been negotiated, which ones might be too old to negotiate, and which ones are likely to get refunded. We can also tell you if your bank is cooperative, moderate, or difficult to negotiate with based on our history with them.

2. Keep it respectful and truthful

You should never lie in a negotiation, and you should remember that the person on the other end of the line likely (read: probably definitely) didn’t write the refund policy. You can be both polite and persistent.

Even if you’re extremely frustrated with the bank or service, you don’t want to sabotage the relationship. If the situation gets heated, they could ban you altogether, or they might feel inclined to report your negative marks to a credit bureau or other agency.

3. Use leverage as a fallback

Try not to come out of the gate snapping, “I know you don’t want me to leave you for your competitor!” Organize your arguments in a way that allows the representative to offer you a refund before you have to take drastic measures.

Start with: Hello, my name is [your name], and I’m calling about a recent fee that I’m hoping that you can reverse for me.

If necessary, you can proceed with other points of leverage.

4. Have a Plan B

If the representative is not receptive to your arguments, you might have to take it a step further. Plan Bs could include:

  • Escalating the issue to higher level management
  • Dropping the issue if you’re able to take the loss financially
  • Respectfully explaining to the representative that you’re considering leaving the bank or service for an alternative option


At this point, the representative may be able to find some wiggle room. Believe it or not, banks and other service providers pay anywhere from $200–$2,000 to acquire a single customer. In other words, they’d rather issue you a refund than lose you as a customer altogether.

This can be an effective strategy if you’ve done your research and determined that there is, in fact, a cheaper service. Try to refrain from using this argument unless you are willing to make the move.

5. Know when to stop

You won’t win every argument. You might have to take the loss or try calling back later to speak with a different representative. You might also have to accept a lower refund. For instance, if you have 14 overdraft fees and three ATM fees, the bank might only be willing to refund your overdraft fees. Count this as a win.

How Does Cushion Use Leverage

Cushion’s advanced algorithm is trained on $30 billion worth of bank and credit card fee transactions—it knows exactly what to say to your financial institution and when to say it in order to increase your chances of getting the highest possible refund.

After our system scans your accounts, it identifies your penalties and banking trends: How long have you banked with the financial institution? How many open accounts do you have? Do you make on-time payments or frequent deposits? Are you experiencing financial hardship?

Once Cushion determines which fees are negotiable and have a high likelihood of getting refunded, we launch a negotiation with the bank and strengthen your argument with different points of leverage.

Final Thoughts

Cushion’s ⚛️ Fee Genius is the brains behind our operation. It scans your accounts regularly, catches pesky fees, figures out what is negotiable, and more. We provide you with all of the “what” behind fee negotiation so you only have to figure out the “how” of negotiating your fees.

And if you want Cushion to negotiate your fees for you, well we’re sort of geniuses at that too. To date, we’ve refunded our customers more than $10 million in bank and credit card fees. If you’d like to opt into our 💭 Fee Negotiation add-on, just flip the switch during sign-up or in the Profile tab of your dashboard.

Cushion helps you waste less money, save more, and live a financially healthier life. We monitor your bank and credit card accounts 24/7, find and alert you about pesky fees, let you know which fees are negotiable, which banks are cooperative, and can even automatically negotiate on your behalf.* To date, Cushion has secured customers more than $10 million in bank and credit card fee refunds—and we’re just getting started.

*Cushion only negotiates fees with high refund odds. We cannot guarantee any negotiations, a regular frequency of negotiations, or fee refunds—your bank makes the final call.