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  • How to Pay Bills When You Can’t Pay Your Bills

    Let's look for some breathing room.

    When your bills or debts feel overwhelming, certified credit counselors can be your champions. Learn more and connect to a counselor that can help you.

    When the money you’ve got just won’t go far enough, you need to know how to strategically pay some bills — and minimize the fallout from not paying them all. Here’s how to put a plan together.

    First, protect the essentials. These include shelter, food, heat, lights, transportation and whatever else you need to be able to work (such as child care and phone service). What’s not essential? Everything else. Credit scores can recover. For now, focus on the basics.

    You may need to move if you can’t afford where you’re living. There’s an exception to this rule, however. If you can’t afford your mortgage payment, you may want to stay put. The foreclosure process typically takes several months, which means you could stay in your current home for free while you try to fix the rest of your financial life.

    Next, do some triage on your bills. Use the guide above to see how long you’ve got on each type of bill before consequences begin. Virtually any skipped payment hurts you somehow. But there’s a big difference between missing a credit card payment and missing one for, say, child support.

    You’ll also find resources, where applicable, that might help you find some breathing room.

    Be prepared for calls. While tossing a few bucks to your credit card issuers or collection agencies may temporarily get them off your back, such payments are ultimately pointless if you wind up erasing your debts in bankruptcy or entering a debt management plan. We suggest you visit both a credit counselor and a bankruptcy attorney sooner rather than later. Consultations are typically free.

    If you are sued, it’s important to show up in court — otherwise a default judgment will be entered against you that can lead to wage garnishment and raids on your bank account. Many states allow you to be arrested for failing to respond to a court order to appear about a debt.

    45 Ways to Save Money on Your Monthly Bills

    It’s no secret that life is expensive. The bad news is, it gets more expensive every year. Inflation drives up the cost of living, gas prices go up year after year, and the older your kids get, the more they eat (so learn to save money on your groceries now). There is a little good news, though – there’s a ton of ways to save money on your monthly bills! I love to save money! Who doesn’t, right? Some of these tips might sound basic and pretty obvious, but putting them together in practice can save you tons of money each month.

    Your bills

    How to Save Money on Your Bills:

    1- Keep the temperature as cool as you can handle during the winter and as warm as you can handle during the summer. Turn the heat down and use blankets more in the winter (or invest in a wood burning stove). Likewise, turn up the air and use fans in the summer (and be sure to drink lots of water).

    2- Install a programmable thermostat. There’s no need to run the heat and air all day and night – especially if no one is home most of the day. Set it to turn on a half-hour before anyone comes home. You can also program it to change to different temperatures at different times to adjust for changing temperatures outside.

    3- Replace filters for anything that heats or cools around your house once a month. The dirtier your filters become, the more energy efficiency you lose (not to mention the worse your air quality becomes).

    4- Eliminate drafts by using inexpensive expanding foam or caulk to fill cracks and small holes around windows, door frames and exterior walls where cold or warm air typically escapes. Look carefully around where pipes and wires enter and exit your home.

    5- Add more energy-efficient insulation to your attic. Using insulation with the appropriate R-value (resistance to heat flow) will greatly increase the heating and cooling efficiency in your home.

    6- Lower your hot water thermostat by 10ºF, but no lower than 120ºF. You’ll still get all the hot water you need and save energy in the process. You can also install a water heater blanket to improve the efficiency.

    7- Use your vacuum to clean the coils in the front grill and backside of your refrigerator, so it works more efficiently. Also clean the lint collector in your dryer as well as the hot air duct leading out of the house with a vacuum for the same reason (…or just skip the dryer in warm weather altogether).

    8- Swap your standard incandescent bulbs for compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs). They’re more energy-efficient, last for years instead of months, consume very little power and generate very little heat. If they’re too expensive to replace all at once, replace them as the old ones burn out.

    9- Unplug all unused electrical devices. Most electric devices use a “phantom charge” – a small but constant amount of electricity. To eliminate that usage, unplug the items. This includes things like your microwave, cell phone chargers not in use, and gaming devices.

    10- Consider using power strips and timers to turn electrical devices on and off. A power strip with a switch on it, when turned off, blocks the “phantom charge” on those devices; a timer can automatically turn off the charge going to a power strip (or anything plugged into it) at a certain time.

    11- Perform a nightly walk-thru of your home. Make sure all lights, lamps, televisions, fans and other electricity-using devices are turned off (or unplugged) before you go to bed. The savings from simply turning everything off can add up quickly.

    12- Compare the meter reading on your utility bill to what you actually see on your meter. If the amount on your meter is lower than the one on your bill, you’re being overcharged. But remember – mistakes sometimes happen, so don’t automatically assume the worse if there is a discrepancy.

    13- Landscaping your yard with the right mix of trees and shrubs can lower your energy bills by blocking winter wind and summer sun. This might not be an immediate fix, but it will save you money in the future. Plus if you get fruit and nut trees, they’ll pull double-duty by providing your family with food.

    Reduce Your Communication Bills

    14-Keep your cell phone bill low by avoiding extra fees and charges. Take a few minutes to scrutinize your monthly bill line by line. If you find you’re not using all the services you’re signed-up for (anytime minutes, unlimited data, text messaging, music downloads, etc), drop some of them and find a better package… or consider switching to a prepaid plan.

    15- If you’re on a family plan, do a “needs analysis” and get rid of the phones that aren’t absolutely necessary. Even with a family plan, canceling just one line can lighten your bill significantly.

    16- If your cell phone plan offers free nights and weekends, make your weekly calls then (like to out of state relatives and friends). Not only will you save money by canceling long distance service on your land line (if you still have one), it will also save your cell phone minutes.

    17- Switching to an internet telephone service, (Voice over Internet Provider, or VoIP), can save you a lot of money – especially if you make a lot of long-distance calls. Providers often charge a flat fee and don’t have all the extra taxes and fees that traditional telephone services have.

    18- Skype is another great way of saving on phone calls. Download the free Skype software to your computer, and you can talk to anyone else anywhere in the world who also has the software, without having to pay any extra fees over your normal internet bill.

    19- If you still have a land line, cancel all the extra services you don’t use (call waiting, caller ID, voicemail, call forwarding, three-way calling). If you don’t use it, you don’t need it, so stop paying for it.

    20- If you bundle your services (cable, internet, land line telephone), you may save big. Be sure to comparison shop every few months to see if you’re paying too much for your telecommunications services. Many times competing companies will offer better deals to new customers. If you find a better deal, contact your current providers and negotiate for better terms (or switch).

    How to Save Money on Your Mortgage

    21- Contact some lending institutions and inquire about current mortgage rates. You might be able to get into a situation that reduces your monthly debt payments without significantly increasing your overall cost in the long term. If you’re getting a new mortgage in an interest-rate environment where rates could fall, apply and then allow your rate to float for a while before locking – you may get a lower rate. On the other hand, if you think rates are heading up, lock immediately. Either way, get your rate in writing.

    22- When comparing mortgage offers, don’t forget to look at closing costs. Fees for things like title insurance and home inspections can vary greatly, even within the same institution. Taking time to compare or negotiate lower fees can save hundreds or even thousands of dollars, greatly reducing the real cost of your loan.

    23- When it comes to credit cards, the easiest thing to do is just stop using them. If you can’t afford to pay cash for what you need, you probably don’t need it. Of course there are emergency situations, but those are likely to be few and far between. Don’t use your cards for anything you can eat or wear, and avoid using credit cards to buy “wants” such as a new stereo or TV. Wait until you have the money to buy it.

    24- If you have multiple cards, stop using them all except for one – the one with the lowest interest rates and best terms. Transfer debt from the higher interest cards to the one you intend to keep to greatly reduce your monthly debt.

    25- Don’t take cash out of your credit card. The rate for cash advances is much higher, and there is no “interest-free” grace period – you start paying interest right away.

    26- Read your monthly credit card statements carefully. Look out for hidden charges, such as insurance. Don’t pay for theft insurance on your credit card. If your credit card is stolen, you’re only liable for $50 at most.

    27- Keep your checkbook balanced, and always check it before writing the next check or using your debit card. You’ll avoid overdraft fees and better track what goes in and out. If you do bounce a check, and it’s the first time, ask your bank if they might waive the fee. A bank will sometimes do that – especially for loyal customers. Just don’t become a repeat offender.

    28- Don’t be late on your credit account payment. Credit companies check their customers’ credit reports frequently, and may raise interest rates due to late payments on any account (not just theirs).

    29- Consolidate your loans. Don’t hold out for a hope of better rates to consolidate your loans, especially if your current rates are quite high. Spend the time to find a good loan consolidation option and it will pay off every single month.

    30- Some lenders say they can change rates “at any time for any reason”. So even if you pay on time each month and think you’re a model customer, study each statement and track your fees. If you’re getting a raw deal, it may be time for a change.

    Cut Back on Entertainment to Save Money

    31- Lower your cable bill by calling your cable company to eliminate any channels you are not watching. Your cable company may actually give you the same channels for less money if you ask to downgrade your package. It might be a six month or one year offer but this will save you money. If you do end up reducing the amount of channels you have, it will also help with electricity costs – you won’t be watching television as much (and you’ll suddenly find you have much more free time).

    32- Reduce or eliminate organized child activities. Look for activities that your child is sincerely interested in (if you don’t know, ask them what they really like) and focus on those while cutting back on the rest.

    33- Cancel club memberships. If you’re using a gym membership less than once a week or a country club membership less than once a month, you’re likely throwing away money. What other clubs are you wasting money on?

    34- Look for inexpensive entertainment options such as the local library, local community events and so on. Your community likely offers many options for inexpensive or free entertainment of all kinds that you may not even know about.

    35- If you get a magazine or newspaper in the mail but simply don’t read all of it, cancel that subscription when it comes up for renewal. An unread subscription is nothing more than expensive clutter, and you can often find the exact same articles on the company’s website.

    36- Do some price comparisons on your auto insurance. Consider changing your insurance policy to one with a higher deductible. If you have an older vehicle you might even consider switching to a lesser coverage. Decide if the monthly payment for collision insurance is worth paying for on your older vehicle.

    37- If you have more than one car, insure them on the same policy or try insuring your vehicles through the same company that insures your home for a discount.

    38- Keep your driving record as clean as possible, and if it’s pretty spotless already, make sure your insurance company knows it. If you’ve gone a certain number of years without an accident or ticket, keep your car in a garage, or drive fewer than a certain number of miles each year, talk to your insurance company to see if you’re really getting the best rates.

    39- A driver’s age may impact insurance rates. Restrict your teen to driving the family’s oldest car and let the insurance company know your son or daughter has no access to more valuable cars you own.

    40- Downgrade your health insurance. Ask at work about the various options available to you that might reduce your insurance costs, and don’t neglect to look into family options if you have children. All working members of the household should look at family coverage and compare rates to find the best provider and rates.

    41- If you’re paying for whole life insurance or universal life insurance, look strongly at a term package instead. The cost per year will be significantly cheaper and at the end of the term, your life insurance needs may likely be far less than they are right now.

    Other Ways to Save Money on Your Bills

    42- If you hire out household services (housecleaning, landscaping, etc.) to others, consider trimming back or eliminating them. Instead, put aside some time each week to do them yourself – not only will you save money, but you’ll find that many activities can get the whole family involved.

    43- Reduce or eliminate consumable habits (smoking, alcohol, etc). Any consumable habit, whether it be smoking or drinking can be a constant drain on a budget without any real benefit. Not only are you draining your wallet, you’re draining your health.

    44- Paperless bills save money for utilities providers, which means they sometimes encourage their customers to use them by offering incentives. Paperless billing may not provide a huge saving, but you could cut your bills by hundreds of dollars by choosing an online-only deal, especially with energy providers.

    45- Negotiate all of your bills. Call each company at off- peak times (such as early morning) to discuss lowering your rates. Companies are less busy and more likely to spend time negotiating with you. It absolutely never hurts to ask.

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