How To Get Help Paying Your Utility Bills
If you can't pay your utility bills, you are in a terrifying and vulnerable position. Fortunately, there are agencies that can help cover the cost, whether you are behind on your payments or think you can't make your next one.
Find out what happens when you can't pay your utility bills and which organizations can provide financial assistance.
What if you can't pay your utility bills?
Service providers generally don't disconnect their services the moment a payment is missed, so you can breathe easier if you haven't made a payment for just a day or two. However, it is important to act quickly.
Late payments can have a ripple effect, making it harder to keep up and even affect other parts of your finances. You may pay a late fee or even have your provider disconnect your services after you miss a payment. Some companies may charge a reconnection fee to restore services.
Another major concern is your credit score. Although utility companies do not regularly report utility bills to credit bureaus, unpaid utility bills can affect your credit score. Your provider can send your past due balance to a collection agency, which can forward your past due account information to the credit bureaus.
Having accounts receivable can affect your credit score and your ability to get approved for credit-related products and services. You may even have to pay a security deposit when starting services with a new company.
You may have a service disconnect moratorium depending on your state and time of year. Under the moratorium, service providers cannot disconnect services in extreme weather situations, for low-income residents, or for residents who have requested emergency assistance from the government.
If you are connected to life support devices or have other medical needs that require public services, your public service may be prohibited from disconnecting services, provided you have notified your provider. Check with your state public service commission to familiarize yourself with the regulations and protections in your area.
There are a few places where you can seek help paying your utility bills. Your service provider is the best place to start. Contact customer service to explain your situation and ask about the options available to you. Your provider may allow you to request an extension, pay your bill in installments, or connect you with a partner organization that can help you.
Depending on your income, you may be able to get assistance through the following federal and local organizations and programs.
Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP)
LIHEAP is a federally funded program administered by the Department of Health and Human Services that helps with residential electric bills and other energy-related issues such as crisis and HVAC.
Assistance is available to low-income families with a child, a member with a disability, or the elderly. To qualify (in most cases), your total household income for the previous month must be at or below 150% of the federal poverty level:
|LIHEAP Maximum Income Limits|
|Household Size||Pre-Tax Yearly Income Limit|
The Salvation Army
Your local Salvation Army can partner with utility providers to provide emergency assistance with utility bills. Eligibility requirements may vary by local program, but programs generally help people with limited income, the elderly, or the disabled. Other situation eligibility requirements may apply: an ongoing unpaid utility bill, no access to other assistance, and the need to make a payment to continue or restore services.
Contact your local Salvation Army chapter for more information on program eligibility.
Dial 2-1-1 anywhere in the country for referrals to community organizations that can help you. Some local organizations that provide emergency assistance, such as Jewish Family and Community Services, require a local 211 agency to refer you.
Tips to Lower Your Utility Bills
Lowering your utility costs can make your bills more affordable and easier to balance with your other expenses. Your utility provider may offer billing options to help you lower your monthly costs.
For example, budget billing smooths out seasonal fluctuations and allows you to pay the same amount each month. Billing with "time advantage" or "time of use" saves you money if you can use more electricity during off-peak hours.
Make sure your home is using energy efficiently by conducting a home energy audit. The audit can help you discover places where your home is losing energy. Some government programs help with HVAC costs for low-income families.
Reducing energy use can save you some money on your future utility bills. Even little things like unplugging unused electronics, turning off lights you're not using, and washing clothes in cold water can reduce energy use and make your bill more manageable.
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Source: ABC13 Houston
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