There are few feelings more frustrating than opening up your energy bill and seeing a number a lot higher than you were expecting. It’s frustrating because you often feel completely helpless.

You don’t know anything about utilities. You can’t explain how it works. You don’t know what a “kilowatt-hour” is. So you see an abnormally-high energy bill and get mad… and then you just pay it.

The question, however, hangs in your mind: “Can I dispute my energy bill?”

The answer is - maybe.

The truth is, no company is perfect. Every utility company is run by human beings. So if you want to contest your electric bill, it might be possible that someone made a mistake somewhere in the process.

If you’re convinced that you want to, then let’s move onto the meat-and-potatoes of the issue: how do you dispute your electric bill, exactly?

Reach out to the company directly.

If you’re in the heat of the moment, you don’t want to pick up the phone and call the utility company right away. For one thing, you might make some crucial mistakes while talking to the utility company that could limit your ability to get any kind of resolution.

The other problem is, you’re going to want to do your homework first. A little bit of preparation goes a long way, and doing this due diligence is absolutely necessary.

Get your records together. Have your current bill in front of you, as well as several past bill from recent months. You want to make sure that you are working off of the same numbers that your utility company is working off of. Don’t worry about “estimates” or how your bill “usually” is. Have the exact numbers handy.

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Also, have something to take notes with. You’ll probably exchange some information with the customer service representative on the other end of the phone, and you’ll need to document who you talked to and when, along with exactly what information you received. This is important in case the dispute is escalated.

Next, set some goals for yourself. How much do you want the bill reduced? Often in these situations, a settlement is offered. What does that number look like for you? Resist the urge to go with an “all or nothing” approach. Be reasonable and understand that the person you’re dealing with probably can’t just wipe away your entire bill unless there was a serious mistake.

Then, call the company during a time of day when the representative isn’t so busy. Friday mornings are great. Avoid Mondays or days after holidays.

Learn how to work with a customer service representative.

And before you start calling, get your mind in the right frame. Don’t charge into the conversation with your tempers flaring. View the customer service representative as your teammate. You’re trying to work together. If you come in with a combative attitude, you’ll probably have trouble getting any resolution that is favorable.

If you find that you are having trouble dealing with the representative for whatever reason, resist the urge to argue further. Instead, end the conversation and call again at a different time. Try to get a different representative and see if your experience changes.

But what if none of the representatives are willing to work with you? You’re always within your rights to request to speak to a manager.

Document everything you say and everything you’re told in response. You may even find it beneficial to write a letter to the company. If you do, include all the information you’ve documented. And make sure you sign it.

Is your bill an estimate?

Some energy companies generate their bills based on estimates, not actual readings of the meters. If that’s the case, then check your bill.

You may be able to get an accurate reading of your meter requested. If the representative tells you this, write down the date and time that you were told this. And if the company does not send someone to read the meter, you can follow up with the exact information you were given. This ensures accountability.

Often, the representatives you deal with when disputing your bill are doing the best they can. They are not going out of their way to provide bad service for you. But your accountability helps them do their job better, so take good notes.

Accountability is often the difference between being frustrated and having your problem resolved efficiently.

Get someone in your corner.

If you are getting so frustrated that you can’t deal with these representatives anymore, or you feel like you have been talking in circles with no resolution to your issue, it might be time to bring in a third party.

There are consumer advocates that can do the heavy lifting for you. In the case of your electric bill, it might be as simple as calling your state’s public utilities commission. Or you might be able to call the National Association of State Utility Advocates, or NASUCA.

This is a special group that helps utility consumers in state and federal court. You can have a formal investigation conducted, and if this is not satisfactory, then you can file a formal complaint.

An informal investigation involves a representative contacting the utility company on your behalf, or you can escalate it to a formal complaint.

However, be forewarned: if you take a utility company to court, you will probably start incurring legal fees and will need to involve lawyers.

Often, a dispute isn’t that severe.

Fortunately, you might be able to get away with a phone call or two if you want to dispute your electric bill.

An accurate reading of your meter can usually be requested with minimal effort, and that usually makes all the difference.

But make sure that you are open to explanation. Sometimes there are perfectly reasonable explanations for your high energy bill. If it’s an estimate, you can get it resolved. If it’s an unexpected energy drain from activity in your house, that’s obviously something you want to address in the future.

In the end, patience and understanding are very important. And if you approach the situation with that attitude, you might find that there are plenty of people willing to work with you with the same attitude and spirit.