Why You Should Always "Get It in Writing"

At some point in your life, someone is going to do something that adversely impacts you, whether your employer skips you over for a promotion or your landlord tries to keep your entire security deposit. You're going to have to fight back and prove that you're in the right. And to do that, you're going to need evidence. (See also: Organizing Your Financial Paperwork)

The average organization (or individual) doesn't set out to make your life hard. They just work from the assumption that they must be right, at least until shown otherwise. That means that you need documentation of the circumstances in order to win fights. And, since it's tough to tell when someone is going to do something wrong in advance, it's a good idea to build a habit of keeping good documentation.

Get It in Writing

I can't count the number of times that someone has promised me one thing on the phone and forgotten all about it the moment he's hung up. Unless you have a recording of the phone call (which can actually get you into legal trouble!), it's a matter of "he said, she said." The only alternative is to get any decisions in writing, especially if they're out of the ordinary.

It's easy to ask the person you talked to for an email laying out the terms you just discussed. Actually getting that email can be a different matter. Turning the tables can speed up the process; you can write up the terms you discussed and send it to your contact, asking for confirmation that you wrote everything up correctly. Even a quick reply saying that it's exactly what you discussed will help you win your fights down the road. And your email is easier to search than voice mails and other recordings.

Store and Organize Your Documents

Most of us have employment contracts, utility bills, and stacks of other papers all over the place. A haphazard organization system is no help in winning a dispute because you may not even be able to find your documentation. One of the best options is to digitize everything, particularly with text recognition software, so you can easily search for any document you need. (I use Evernote and a scanner.)

Build a habit of scanning every piece of paperwork you need and saving it to the same place. You'll want a back up of your files and you may also need to keep your physical copies — but those won't need to be so thoroughly filed.

Double Check Your Terms

We all forget the details after a while. If something feels a little off and you think you may have to gear up for a dispute, check your documentation before you draw your line in the sand. You may need to round up a few more papers before going up against the bureaucracy. Or you may want to renegotiate those terms. Either way, you'll need the documents in order to get what you want.

Have you ever been forced to defend yourself with documents? Please share your experience in comments!

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Guest's picture

Probably the most overlooked place to "get it in writing" is contracted residential services. We must have a copy of the policy along with the contract and this is after we check current status of any applicable licenses. It pays to be this careful.

Guest's picture

I just had a major business dispute with a friend... I sold him my piano studio 15 months ago, and was going to be paid over the course of a year. Thankfully we had a clear contract to refer back to when he tried to back out of the last payment! My initial attempts to get paid in a timely fashion were ignored, but mentioning that I was going to call in a third party to look at the contract did the trick. He wasn't trying to be a jerk, but our contract definitely saved the friendship and gave me the income I had been counting on!

Guest's picture

Well, I think you can easy record the phone call without legal trouble just say that you are recording it to your talk partner. I mean if you need help for example in setting up a internet connection, often times the big internet companies record the phone call.

Guest's picture

Great advice. The scanner is a life saver for those of us with lots of documentation, but no time or space for a filing cabinet. I would also suggest a cloud storage service like Dropbox or Google Docs. That way, you can access your files from anywhere that has an internet connection.