Falling behind on bills? Here are a few tips to stay afloat

Last updated: July 14, 2024
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Kai Dickerson
Community SpecialistBullet point
Community Specialist
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Falling behind on bills? Here are a few tips to stay afloat
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We’ve all been there. You get your first paycheck or unemployment and feel relieved, but then think: who do I pay off first? Here’s a list of what to prioritize and tips on how to get a little breathing room with your bills while you get back out there and search for a job.

Adjust the payment dates on your bills

Even before you prioritize (determine which bills you need to pay first) requesting a change in due date before the bill is due, may help. If you have an income that pays regularly, like twice a month, give yourself a few days between your payday and the bill due date.

Download this bill calendar to track when money gets tight, and call and ask to move billing dates. Be sure to write down any changes that you agree to so you not late going forward.

Health and home are the most important bills to prioritize

If you're ill or in need of housing, finding a job, or maintaining your current job can be extremely difficult. Your health and housing bills should come foremost.

Obtain and maintain health insurance coverage

In the middle of the #Coronavirus health crisis, loss of health insurance can be devastating. Make sure you understand what, if any, continued health coverage is offered should you lose your job. If continued coverage is not available, research your health insurance options and pay your premiums on time.

Housing payments

Rent payments

If you’re renting, the CARES Act bans evictions through December 2020, in most cases. Your landlord probably understands that many tenants won’t be able to pay and may be more likely to negotiate rent terms since it’ll be harder to find a new renter.

Explain to your landlord what’s going on. Suggest a payment plan where you pay a portion of your rent on a regular basis and stick to it. In less formal arrangements, there may be even more options. For example, you may be able to barter for a rent break in exchange for painting something for your landlord. Be sure to record in writing (new contract, email confirmation, etc.) the new agreement.

Mortgage payments

Have a mortgage? If you can’t make payments, contact your loan servicer - and remember to be patient; others are doing the same.

Those experiencing pandemic-related financial hardship and who have a federally backed mortgage (including FHA, VA, USDA, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac loans) can request a “forbearance” which allows the mortgage holder to pause or reduce payments for up to 180 days while you get back on your feet. You can then ask for an extension of another 180 days. There are no additional fees or documentation required. Even if your loan isn't federally backed, it's worth asking - because it may be granted.

Utilities and phone bills

Utility bills

Whether you live in an area that requires heat, or not, we need electricity, sewer and water. Lower the bill by turning off lights and limiting shower time. If you’re experiencing extreme hardship, call your utilities provider, explain, and ask to discuss a payment plan or defer payments. Be sure to mention if you have children under 12 months old or seniors over 65 at home.

Phone bills

Your cell phone can be a big expense, but an important one! Many no longer have landlines, and a phone number is required for safety. It’s also how your future employer will contact you to tell you that you got the job!

Still, there are ways to keep costs down. Over 750 carriers have signed the Keep Americans Connected Pledge, and many others have added more aid to help you stay connected. Explain to your provider that you need relief and have them walk you through your options.

Credit card bills and car expenses

Credit card bills

In these difficult times, many people are paying for food and essentials on credit cards. But you should be careful to maintain a decent credit rating and avoid going deeper in debt from interest. Credit card companies know finances are tough for most Americans right now. Get in touch and be truthful about your situation. Individual representatives at credit card companies are human and may be empowered to make case-by-case decisions like allowing smaller payments or giving you more time.

Car and vehicle expenses

A car is a necessity for some, but paying a car loan right now may be tough. Here are steps you can take now, if you can have purchased a car and are unable to pay for the loan.

A car lease or loan may not be an expense you want to carry if you’re not working. But it can cost a lot to get out of it; so people often end up not paying until the car is repossessed (which kills your credit score). Instead, try to reach out to the dealership about selling the car back, getting into a car/loan arrangement that is less expensive, or pausing payments. And while you shouldn't skip car insurance, some insurers are advertising payment breaks. If you need your car, ask your auto insurance provider about any potential payment breaks.

Honesty is the best policy

It’s not easy to level with someone about needing help. Just know that many people are going through this right now. It’s understandable, and it is not your fault. If it’s hard to explain your situation to a creditor, start there:

“It’s hard to even talk to you about this, but…”

Chances are that the person on the other end of the line is struggling in some way right now too. In the face of financial difficulties, it may not always feel like it, but we are in this together.

Related article: Can't afford groceries? Here are resources to help

Hope these tips are helpful, and welcome your comments below.



Nadine Baker
Bullet point

Get a job

John Mclaughlin
Bullet point

Good advice