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According to this story reported by CreditCards.com, Melissa Chinwah of Illinois had just gone through a divorce. When she checked her post-divorce credit scores, she was shocked with what she found. Her average score was a dismal 348. How did it get so low, you might ask? Her credit file included 43 collections reports and a repossessed car.
Desperate to find a home for herself and her two children, Melissa needed a way to increase her credit score – quickly!
So, she took the first step – writing goodwill letters. Melissa used her lunch breaks to ask creditors to remove blemishes from her credit report. Over the course of two years, she removed at least 15 collections records and increased her score to an average of 702.
Melissa’s story isn’t unique. Many consumers hit with hard times turn to goodwill letters as an option for cleaning up their credit quickly. Here’s how you can use this technique:
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What is a Goodwill Letter?
A goodwill letter is exactly what it sounds like – a letter asking for the good will of your creditors. You can use this type of letter with any loan – credit cards, federal loans, private loans, student loans, car loans, and even mortgages.
Basically, you write a creditor to ask if they will remove negative records from your credit report, thus increasing your score.
When is it the Best Option?
Writing a goodwill letter isn’t always appropriate. If you have a habit of getting yourself into financial scrapes through poor decision making, that will show up in your credit record. In this case, creditors are much less likely to listen to your appeal. They can see from your records that you’ve made multiple late payments in the past and are likely to continue this pattern of behavior.
So, if you’re looking to turn over a new leaf and create new financial habits, you may need to increase your credit score the hard way – by making payments on time, paying down revolving debt, and being patient.
If, on the other hand, you’ve generally got a good credit history but have gone through hard times recently, a goodwill letter may be a good option. In Melissa’s case, her credit issues were due to a divorce. Maybe yours are due to an unexpected illness or a period of unemployment. In these situations, a goodwill letter can help the lender empathize with your situation, and – possibly – remove negative marks from your credit report.
Goodwill letters are also a good option if the creditor made a mistake. Mistakes on credit reports are quite common, so sometimes a late payment will be recorded when you know the payment posted to your bank account on time. In this case, a friendly goodwill letter can be the simplest way to get the situation reversed in your favor.
How to Write a Goodwill Letter
Writing a goodwill letter can take some time, and you shouldn’t just use a form letter for all your creditors. You’ll want to tailor each letter to the specific circumstances of each account. But, in general, you’ll want to do a few things with the letter:
- Take responsibility. Even if you lost your job or went through a divorce, your finances are ultimately your responsibility. Don’t forget that when writing a goodwill letter. Be sure you take responsibility for late payments and other financial mistakes.
- Make an explanation. Just because you’re taking responsibility doesn’t mean you can’t explain yourself. In fact, it’s a good idea to explain why you missed payments. If you lost your job, got snowed under by medical bills, or had other unforeseen circumstances, say so. Don’t throw a pity party, but be up front and honest about the circumstances that took you from always paying on time to missing payments.
- Continue to make an effort. In the letter, explicitly state what you’re doing to catch up financially, whether that’s taking on a second job, making partial payments, or settling some of your debts. Then, follow through on those efforts. It may take a few weeks or even months for a creditor to decide what to do with your goodwill letter. In the meantime, be sure you’re doing everything possible to get the account paid on time.
- Add proof, if necessary. When writing to creditors about mistakes, back up your claims with documentation. For instance, let’s assume the credit card company says you were 30 days late with your payment but you know you paid on time. Attach a copy of your bank records showing your monthly payment clearing from your checking account.
- Be polite. The point of a goodwill letter is to create good will, so don’t make the mistake of coming across as angry or belligerent in your letter. You’re much more likely to get what you want if you’re polite and sincere.
- Keep it simple. Although you’re trying to accomplish quite a few things with a goodwill letter – explaining your situation, taking responsibility, proving your case, and generating sympathy – you don’t want to make it too long. Your results will be better if you get to the point quickly.
What Can You Expect?
Unfortunately, there’s no such thing as a “typical” result with a goodwill letter. It all depends on your situation, your creditor’s policies, and even which customer service representative first reads your letter or email.
With that said, the myFICO forums are full of success stories for these types of letters – and even goodwill phone calls!
Most of the time, if a creditor has no intention of removing a negative report from your account, they’ll tell you. If they decide to remove the report you may not receive any notice. Therefore it is a good idea to keep checking your credit report to see if any actions have been taken.
Writing goodwill letters won’t win you excellent credit overnight, but they can be part of a plan to boost your credit quicker. If you’ve run into some recent financial issues, give it a try. You’ve got nothing to lose.