A “goodwill letter” can be an effective way to improve your credit score, but it needs to be done the right way to have a chance. When you write a goodwill letter, you are essentially asking a creditor for a “break” on a reported delinquency.
The most important thing to remember when writing a goodwill letter is that YOU are ultimately responsible for the delinquency that’s stinking up your credit report. This is not a time to lash out at the creditor or blame anyone else.
In order to have a chance for success, a goodwill letter needs to cite relevant facts in way that can appeal emotionally to the creditor. It’s not enough to present the facts and color them with contexts. You need to tell a story.
I have written several goodwill letters, and I’ve found them to be well worth my time and effort more often than not. In order to increase your odds of obtaining a goodwill adjustment from a creditor that reported you for a late payment, allow me to guide you through some answers to the following useful questions:
When Should I Write a Goodwill Letter?
I think it’s always a good idea to send a goodwill letter anytime you have a late payment blemish on your credit report, because there’s no real downside other than a small investment of time and/or resources. The upside, however, is significant. A goodwill adjustment, if granted, can add several points to your credit score.
I would advise giving priority to any reported delinquencies that you can most readily “build a case for.” For example, if you have several reported delinquencies on your student loan account, but only one delinquency on your credit card account that you’ve had for 8 years, you are far more likely to reach a successful outcome with the credit card account.
Don’t be discouraged by certain creditors, like Bank of America, who claim they “aren’t able to honor requests for goodwill adjustments” because the Fair Credit Reporting Act requires them “to report complete and accurate information” to the credit bureaus. A quick search of the internet shows that people have had success writing goodwill letters to Bank of America, which is just another reason I always recommend trying.
What are the Key Components of a Goodwill Letter?
It’s important to craft an emotional plea that will get the attention of the lender, and compel them to take favorable action. They know there is value in making customers happy, and if they think it can benefit them, they may be able to find some sort of technicality that could justify making a goodwill adjustment.
I always make sure my goodwill letters adhere to a specific formula. The late Stephen Covey famously advised to “begin with the end in mind,” and in this case the “end” is earning an act of forgiveness from a creditor. That’s an important consideration as you construct the letter.
Since I’m going to end the letter with a humble request for forgiveness, I prefer to start with something friendly and complimentary to put the reader at ease and set a positive tone.
If I’ve enjoyed a long and otherwise successful relationship with the company, I’m always sure to mention that up front. You should always include any and all evidence that can support the narrative that you have a strong track record of being reliable and responsible, as well as the fact that this was a one-time isolated instance that is very unlikely to be repeated.
After the pleasantries, I describe the reason for the letter and accept full responsibility for the error. This is the time to be humble, own your mistake, explain any circumstances that contributed to the late payment, and show equal parts remorse for what happened and determination to ensure it doesn’t happens again. Be specific with any steps taken to prevent future occurrences if possible.
The final part of the letter is where you go for the close. Just acknowledge that mistakes were made, show (don’t tell) how you learned from past mistakes, ask for the goodwill adjustment, and thank them for their consideration.
What Does a Goodwill Letter Look Like?
Now that you know the key ingredients of a goodwill letter, it’s time to put your thoughts on paper. If you’re wondering how best to structure those thoughts, I’m pleased to share a sample goodwill letter that addresses a late payment for a credit card:
RE: Regarding a Reported Delinquency
To Whom It May Concern,
My name is Rick Miller, and my account number is XXXX-XXXX-XXXX-XXXX. I have been a satisfied customer of [creditor name] for [number of] years.
Your outstanding customer service is the reason I’ve remained a loyal customer, and I’ve always considered it a priority to make all my payments on time. Unfortunately, I fell short of my own standards earlier this year, and I was over a month late with a payment.
I had been carrying a sizable balance for several months when I finally paid off the full balance in February of this year. When I received my statements in March and April, I simply discarded them without even opening them because I assumed they would show a zero balance with no payment due. It never occurred to me that there would be a finance charge from the last month that carried a large balance.
I realize in retrospect that I should have anticipated that finance charge, and I wish I had taken a moment to just open and read those statements. That was a big mistake, and I can assure you it won’t happen again. From now on, I will always open every piece of mail that I receive from you, and I recently opted into email alerts just to provide an added layer of redundancy.
Your records will show that I had never been late with a payment until this unfortunate oversight, and I have been prompt with the past two monthly payments since getting caught up.
As a long-time customer in good standing, I respectfully request that you apply a goodwill adjustment to remove the late payment from my file.
Thank you very much for your consideration,
What Makes a Goodwill Letter Great?
An effective goodwill letter will include all the key components we discussed earlier, and they will flow logically from start to finish. The introduction should be an effort to establish a friendly and familiar connection:
- appreciate the quality products and services they provide
- value the relationship
In the body of the letter, you should include the relevant facts in context using a relatable story:
- paid the balance in full, but did not anticipate a finance charge
- did not check the statements due to inaccurate assumptions about the recent payoff
As you prepare to ask for the goodwill adjustment, highlight any mitigating facts that you think they should consider:
- was the first late payment on record
- reestablished timely payments in a reliable and responsible manner
Remember to take ownership of your mistake, and provide any evidence you can think of to support the notion that this was a one-time incident and is not likely to happen again. Show (don’t tell) them that you learned from your mistake.
Avoid faxes and email. Put the letter on professional grade paper with letterhead if possible, and send it through snail mail. This conveys an image of professionalism and makes it clear that you really care about making things right.
If you don’t believe you’re much of a writer or if you’re having trouble thinking through how to make your case, you may want to consider seeking the help of a reputable credit repair company. They have experts who know what strategies work best with various industries, and in some cases, even specific companies. I used one the first time I wrote a goodwill letter, and I was very pleased with the outcome.
Always remember, it’s worth a try. Even if you don’t think you have much of a case, it can’t hurt to give it a shot. You’ve likely been told that showing up is half the battle, and in this case, all you have to do in order to show up is write a letter.
It might work, it might not work. Either way, if you take the time to craft and send a goodwill letter, you’ll feel better about your situation because you’ll know that you’ve done everything in your power to positively impact your financial health.