Letters: It's my first time negotiating a salary!

Certified financial planner Louis Barajas answers a listener's letter this week.

Joining host Tony Cox in the studio this week to answer you questions is Los Angeles Times consumer columnist David Lazarus.

Liz from Grand Rapids, Mich., is 27 years old and has been working for four years at the same company. She is climbing her way up the corporate food chain and likely to receive a promotion soon, but wants advice on how to negotiate her salary.

"The long and the short of it is, if you're going into any job interview where you're trying to make an impression, what you want to do is convey what you can do for the company as opposed to what the company can do for you," says Lazarus.  It sounds simple, but  obviously we're all thinking about numero uno in a situation like this. You're thinking what's the salary going to be, what are the benefits are going to be, how much vacation time are you going to get -- that's what you're obsessing about. That's exactly not where you want to start. What you're going to want to be starting with is what you're going to bring to the table. That's what the employer wants to hear."

He says Liz is coming from a relative position of strength because her company knows her and what she can do. He says she needs to come into the room and list her accomplishments, list all the achievements she's had, and list all her goals for the future.

"That's catnip to an employer. They want to hear that kind of thing. They want to know that this is how Liz is going to step up her game and bring more value to the company, more value to shareholders, and then we'll talk about more value to Liz," says Lazarus.

Cox also took some time to ask Lazarus a question of his own. Cox has had a bad experience with paying my bills lately. He does it in an old-school way, paying by check. But with one company -- even though he has mailed off checks well in advance of the due date, they are cashed late. And then he is charged late fees. What's going on there?

"First of all, this is a bit of an aberration. Not all businesses would be this underhanded in their dealings with a regular customer," says Lazarus. "There is no reason whatsoever, though, that you should ever be in a situation where you sent the check in with plenty of time and they're still trying to get you with a late fee because they deposited the check late. What you want to do in that case is call up customer service and you say put on a supervisor because the front line of customer service is not empowered to deal with situations like this. The key thing to emphasize is 'I am a customer in good standing.' You're not some scofflaw, you're not somebody who's been bouncing checks right and left. You are somebody who's doing his job when it comes to being a good customer. It's the company's job now to step up and meet you halfway," says Lazarus.

But Lazarus also says Cox needs to wake up and smell the 21st century: online banking would avoid this problem altogether.

For more advice on whether travel insurance is a good idea and what options are available for a lower income, single female to stop renting and own a home, click play on the audio player above.

About the author

David Lazarus is an American business and consumer columnist for the Los Angeles Times.

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