Writing to ask for an extension on a bill can be stressful, but a successful letter may save you a lot of stress in the future. You may be surprised at how often taking the time to craft a direct and persuasive plea for additional time to pay your bill can improve a tight financial spot. Companies are often willing to work with their customers during a period of financial disruption. As the customer, you have powerful negotiating opportunities.
Be polite and respectful, obeying all standard business letter etiquette. Though you may be very frustrated by the situation, or embarrassed to be asking for an extension, your tone must convey only courteous professionalism. In general, be formal and respectful and strive to use proper grammar and correct spelling (see Resources).
Include all the relevant information the company will need to process your bill. This may include an account number and recent payment statements. Address the letter to the person that will be making the final decision—this could be a senior loan officer if it is a mortgage. It is very important that the letter is read by the right person and filed properly with your account. Include your contact information and ask to be contacted when the letter is received.
Highlight the reasons you are requesting an extension. If possible, provide documentation. For example if you have recently been laid off and are collecting unemployment, you could submit a statement of your benefits. Tangential reasons for consideration, such as being a long-term customer or never having missed a payment before, can be included but kept brief.
State specifically what you want. A vague letter mentioning financial difficulties and requesting help may not make a difference. Suggest a time frame when you could reasonably make a payment. Do not write a date much earlier than you could expect to pay, because repeatedly stalling will make you look like an irresponsible customer. Instead, provide a realistic idea of how much you can pay and when. The company may even be willing to lower your payments for a period of time, depending on the type of loan.
Follow up the letter with a call. The letter should be short and to the point; you can go into more detail on the phone when talking to your account representative. Your follow-up call should confirm receipt of the letter and inquire as to when a final decision will be made. Staying on top of deadlines will help you maintain control of this unfortunate financial situation and show the company that you are serious about finding a solution.
Ask for information on special programs to help customers in need. If your bill is a student loan payment, for example, loans can be deferred if the student’s income falls below a certain level. Utility companies can waive heating bills to low-income customers or direct them to programs that assist with utility bills. Always ask to be told the negative consequences of these programs—interest may be added to your balance, for example.