Can’t Pay Your Bills? Here Are Some Things You Can Do

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Arguably one of the most stressful financial situations that you can be in is when you can’t pay your bills. 

There may not be an easy way to get from being unable to cover your bills to being financially secure again, but help does exist.

You might wonder which bills to prioritize and where to turn for help.

In this article, we’ll discuss what to do when you can’t pay your bills, what bills to prioritize, what assistance programs exist, how to get back on track, and what to do when you can’t get back on track.

Let’s jump right in.

What Happens When You Miss Bill Payments

What happens when you miss paying a bill depends on the type of bill that you missed paying. Here are some consequences you can face for missing bill payments:

  • Late or missed payment fees
  • Having your utilities or services like internet or phone disconnected
  • You take a hit to your credit score
  • Things you own get repossessed, such as a car if you have an auto loan
  • You’re sued by creditors
  • You face eviction or foreclosure

There are future consequences to many of these, such as having trouble qualifying for loans in the future, having to pay higher rates for services, or struggling to find a suitable place to rent after an eviction.

Prioritize Your Bills

When you have more bills to pay than you can afford, prioritizing the ones you pay makes the most sense. 

In this case, you want to prioritize the bills you need to survive, which include your rent or mortgage, food, utilities, transportation to work, and any other expense that allows you to keep working to pay bills.

Any other bill that is non-essential can wait. You may owe fees or hurt your credit score, but this can be remedied in the future. For now, it’s most important to ensure you don’t lose shelter, food, heat, water, electricity, and the ability to get to work.

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Look Into Programs for Help Paying Your Bills

If you live in the United States, some programs and options exist to help you with different living expenses should you be unable to pay your bills.

Let’s go over these options based on different expenses.

Get Help Paying Your Rent

Being unable to pay your rent means you may face eviction. If you’re unable to pay your rent, then one option is to visit the National Low Income Housing Coalition’s website and find resources where you can apply for assistance based on your state.

You might be able to negotiate your rent with your landlord and request to pay partial rent for a few months while you remedy your financial situation. You would then catch up with the part of the rent that was reduced.

Reach out to your landlord in advance if you can’t make a rent payment. They may be willing to work with you, especially if you have a history of on-time payments.

Another option is to seek a low or no-cost housing counselor who can help you come up with options to pay your rent while reviewing your lease with you.

Get Help Paying Your Mortgage

If you’re struggling to pay your mortgage, then it’s important to reach out to your lender as soon as possible. Your lender may offer forbearance, which is when you pause payments for a period and pay those payments at the end of your mortgage.

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Consider reaching out to The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to meet with a housing counselor.

Another option that your lender might offer you is a loan restructuring. This will help make your payments more affordable, though you may end up paying your mortgage over a longer period of time.

You might consider refinancing your mortgage, though if your credit score has suffered from not paying bills or your income isn’t high enough, you may not qualify.

Some other options exist when you can’t pay your mortgage, which include:

  • Renting out part of your home to help cover your mortgage
  • Selling your home and paying off your mortgage in the process

If none of these options work, you may fall into foreclosure or a short sale, and in this case, lose the house. 

Get Help Paying Utility Bills

Paying your utility bills is critical as you need electricity, water, and heat. If you can’t pay these bills, call your utility providers and see if they can help.

You might be able to receive assistance from the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), which helps low-income households with heating and cooling energy costs, bill payment assistance, and more.

Additionally, look into government discount programs for phones so that you can keep your phone service running.

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Get Help Paying Auto Loans

Falling behind too far on auto loan payments may lead you to get your car repossessed. 

When you’re faced with being unable to pay your auto loan, call your lender before you miss a payment, or as soon as possible after.

Explain that you’re struggling to make payments and see if the lender is willing to work with you. You might be able to refinance your auto loan as well.

If you think you may lose your car, then look into other transportation options where you live, such as a bus or train. In addition, you might qualify for low-income transportation passes.

Get Help Paying Student Loans

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) granted temporary forbearance of student loan payments, which is currently through December 31st, 2022.

Student loan payments are not required during this time, and no interest will accrue.

That said, these payments will be due eventually, and you’ll need to have a plan in place to pay them when payments are due again.
You may be eligible for additional forbearance or deferment plans, though this is determined based on whether you have public or private student loans.

If you have private student loans, call up your lender right away and be honest about your situation to see if they will work with you.

Your employer may also help you pay some of your student loan debt, as might a new employer if you’re in the job market.

One option is to refinance your student loans to a lower interest rate, which will help reduce your monthly payments.

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Get Help Paying Credit Card Bills

While credit cards serve as an easy way to buy things and pay some bills, it’s also easy to sink into debt when you don’t pay your balance off each month.

If you become unable to pay your credit card’s minimum payment, or if you start falling further and further behind, then contact your credit card company, as they might be able to assist you.

Here are some benefits that some credit card companies offer when a cardholder is struggling to keep up:

  • Waive and forgive fees for a duration
  • Reduce interest rates
  • Pause reporting late and missed payments to the credit bureaus

Additional benefits may be available, and it pays to ask your credit card company for assistance as soon as you realize you’re falling behind or can’t keep up.

One option is to transfer your balance to a new credit card that has a 0% APR introductory period. This can be handy if you know you’ll be able to pay the balance off during the introductory period. A balance transfer might come with an initial fee, so keep that in mind.

Get Help Paying Medical Bills

When you have medical bills that you can’t pay, there are two relatively straightforward options to try right away.

The first option is to negotiate your bill with the billing department of the place that your bill is from. You can try explaining your financial situation and see if they’ll reduce how much you owe them.

The second option is to ask for a payment plan. Many medical facilities will offer you a payment plan, and some will even offer a 0% interest repayment plan if you pay back the balance by a certain date.

How To Get Back On Track So That You Can Pay Your Bills Again

As you’re looking for assistance to help you pay your bills, you also want to find a way to get back on track again so that you can recoup and get back to paying your bills.

Evaluating your budget is one way to get back on track, as you can find places where you’re overspending or find out how much more money you need to make to cover everything.

Here are two other ways to get back on track:

Significantly Reduce Spending

Are you spending too much money on things such as eating out, fancy clothing, entertainment, and travel? If you’re an impulsive spender, then you’ll want to find ways to curb your impulses.

You may need to go to an extreme by doing things such as locking up your credit cards or erasing your payment information from all websites that you shop on.

Living more frugally and below your means are key ways to stay on top of your finances, as you want to spend less than your make as a good rule of thumb.

Find Ways to Increase Your Earnings

If you’re unable to spend less or if you’ve cut spending as much as you can, then increasing your earnings is another option.

Making more money gives you more to work with so that you can catch up on your bills.

Here are some effective ways to increase your earnings:

  • Work extra shifts or overtime at your job
  • Take on a temporary second job
  • Start a side hustle
  • Solve work-related problems for your boss and ask for a raise

What To Do If You Can’t Catch Up On Your Bills

You may determine that you won’t be able to catch up on your bills despite your efforts. In this case, bankruptcy might be an option. Talking to a bankruptcy attorney will help determine if bankruptcy is right for you.

You can also seek a nonprofit credit counselor for help repaying your debts.

Wrapping It Up

Not being able to pay your bills is a stressful situation that you likely never want to be in but may be in currently. Following the strategies from above, you can find assistance programs to help you get back on track.

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