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In the world of goods and services, incorrect or unfair billing is an unfortunate side effect. It is sometimes possible to dispute a bill that seems incorrect or unfair, but it is often an uphill battle. Whether dealing with hospital bills, credit card charges, or even restaurant bills, taking careful and legally correct action can help a consumer dispute a bill and achieve a successful resolution.
When a bill looks wrong or seems unduly high, try to compare it to any records available. For a credit card bill, check receipts and statements to make sure each transaction is properly recorded. If a restaurant bill seems enormous, ask for a copy of the menu and compare the prices charged to the prices listed. Keeping good records is an essential part of disputing a bill successfully; nothing will bring about a result faster than hard evidence that proves the charges are incorrect.
If the bill in dispute is covered by insurance, such as a medical bill or bill for repairs after an automobile accident, contact the insurance company. Since they are responsible for all or a portion of the payment, it is in their interest to ensure that the charges are correct. A powerful insurance company can carry much more weight than one angry consumer, and thus may be able to manage a fair resolution faster and with more success.
Whether trying to dispute a bill with a customer service representative, salesperson, or waitress, it is important to remain calm, civil, and polite. Accusations, swearing, and general hostility breed defensiveness, and a simple misunderstanding can quickly turn into a full-blown fight in no time. Making the people in charge of the billing angry will make them reticent to care about the situation or want to help an angry customer. Remaining polite cannot only keep the situation cool, but may actually make the other side more motivated to find a fair solution.
Don't be afraid to contact company headquarters if attempts to dispute a bill go unmet. Some people rely on “speaking to the manager” if a lower-level employee refuses to change a bill in dispute, but managers and supervisors are often protective of their employees and may only pay lip service to a customer while actually backing the employee behind closed doors. Contacting a company's owner, posting unfavorable ratings on popular review websites, or making complaints to regulatory and agencies can help a person dispute a bill if the ground-level employees will not help.
In the worst case scenario, decide whether there is enough evidence to go to small claims court. This can become necessary in situations where the transaction is large and the evidence clearly in favor of the customer. Remember, however, that small claims court may take some time to reach, and that there are usually court fees associated with a trial. Make sure that the battle is worth fighting before taking the issue before a court.
I have found that when I dispute a bill over the phone, most customer service representatives don't try to argue with me too much. I think they've been instructed to issue a refund or a replacement with few questions asked. It's better for the company to risk losing a little money on a bogus bill dispute than lose a good customer for life.
There are some exceptions, though. Some bills are just too high to ignore or forgive. A friend of mine tried to dispute a medical bill, but the hospital's administrators insisted there was nothing wrong with the charges and said he still owed over $15,000 for an uninsured procedure. The best resolution he could get was an agreement to break the bill down into affordable monthly payments.
I don't know if it's actually a good legal move or not, but I've heard you can write the words "paid under duress" on a check or signed receipt if you dispute a bill but feel forced to pay it anyway. I've seen it happen a few times on TV court shows. A homeowner didn't like the work a contractor did on her house, but he demanded full payment before he left the area. She wrote the check, but added the words "paid under duress" above her signature.
I believe the judge in that case found in favor of the homeowner, because she provided pictures of the shoddy work and also a copy of that check with the added words. The judge said it proved the woman's dispute better than complaining about it weeks later.
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