Who here enjoys paying their bills? While some people may feel a certain level of satisfaction from clearing their debts, most will resent ever having them in the first place — and that’s on a good day. When you see a surprising charge bumping up your usual total, it can be a very bad day indeed.
If you live on a strict budget, you may not have the extra cash you need to cover an inflated bill. Luckily, you don’t necessarily have to pay it all by the due date. There are ways to dispute a surprising charge on your bill.
Call your utility provider
Mistakes happen — the extra charge you see on your bill may be an error made by the billing team at your provider, or it could be the result of faulty meter equipment.
Of course, there’s the chance it could be auser error. Services like electricity charge by usage, so the more you use it, the more you’ll end up paying. If there are any caps on what you can use — like your phone plan’s limits on minutes or GBs of data — you’ll face penalties for going over them.
By calling your provider, you’ll be able to get to the bottom of the charges and figure out if they’re legitimate fines or mistaken charges.
It’s not always easy disputing a charge, so make sure you prepare before you pick up the phone by:
- Having all of your bills in front of you. Make sure you’ve highlighted the problematic charges, rehearsing what you want to say.
- Knowing what you want to achieve through the call. Do you want the charges removed entirely or simply reduced to a lower fee? If it turns out to be a legitimatecharge, will you need to negotiate a new payment system to help offset the cost? Try to run through every possible scenario, so you have a potential answer for anything.
Once you have a service representative on the phone, make sure you keep a pen and paper handy so you can write down any pertinent information.
In addition to taking notes from the call, jot down the representative’s name and ID number, as well as the case number, for your records. This information will make it easier to follow up on the issue in case it isn’t resolved in one call.
Get in touch with a consumer advocacy group
Ideally, you’ll hear an apology from the customer representative before they remove the charge from your bill, but it doesn’t always happen this way. Sometimes, you won’t get anywhere with your provider.
If, at this point, you still feel as though there’s something erroneous with your bill, you can turn to a consumer advocacy group for help. Depending on where you live, there may be a local or state consumers’ council that helps mediate complaints and investigate issues with utility, cellphone, or cable companies.
You can also try filing a complaint with one of the following national organizations:
- The Federal Communications Commission (FCC): Regulating interstate telecommunications, the FCC has an online filing process for complaints regarding cable, cellphone, and landline bills.
- The National Association of State Utility Advocates (NASUA): This organization will informally investigate a dispute by contacting the company. You have the option to file a formal complaint if it doesn’t have the resolution you expected.
- The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB): As an organization that holds financial companies to account, the CFPB investigates complaints lodged against banks, lenders, and other financial companies.
Figure out a payment plan
In the worst case scenario, an investigation proves unsuccessful, and you’re left on the hook for all or partial charges.
If you’re stuck paying the extra charge, it may be worth it to call up your provider again to negotiate a deferred payment plan that helps offset the pressure of your higher-than-normal bill. You may also discuss downgrading your service so you pay less in the future.
If you’re still having a hard to time paying for this surprise charge, you can check in with an online lender to see if an installment loan or line of credit would help. As short term loans, these products are ideal for those unexpected charges on your regular bills rather than a permanent solution to chronic issues. If this sounds like something you could use, make sure you get more information on how and when to use an installment loan or line of credit before you apply.
Although it may not feel like it when you see what’s due on your bill, you do have options when faced with a surprising charge on your bill. Disputing it first with your provider, then with the help of a consumer advocacy group may help you lower or remove the charge altogether. Good luck!