What to Do When You Can't Pay Utility Bills

Lifestyle and Budget

Winter heating or summer air conditioning bills can be brutal to those just getting by and struggling to pay bills. If you are in this situation, you cannot afford any other problems. A harsh round of weather, an unexpected expense, or a rise in utility rates can leave you unable to pay your utility bills – and in a potentially dangerous position.

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You may not have to go it alone. There are several ways to get help with paying your utility bills, as well as lowering your bills by saving on your overall utility usage.

Local Utilities – The first place to start is with your local utility company. Most utilities have programs that can help low-income individuals with their bills, or payment mechanisms that can help with high-peak load months – like a cost-averaging plan that keeps your bill consistent throughout the year.

They may also have weatherization tips that are the most appropriate for your area – after all, the utility company employees live in your area, too. It may be possible to have a representative from the utility company conduct an energy survey to help identify areas where you can save on the utility bill without spending much money.

LIHEAP – The Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) is a Federal program under the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) which is administered by the states. LIHEAP targets two types of households for assistance: those with residents with advanced health risks (very young children, elderly, or disabled family members), and high-burden homes with combined low incomes and high regional costs.

Each state has their own set of qualifications and provides utility bill assistance according to their limits. Some states also provide weatherization programs to help keep your utility bills down.

You will have to contact your state’s LIHEAP office for details on qualifications and benefits. A list is available on the HHS website at www.acf.hhs.gov.

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Alternate State/Local Programs – If you are unable to get suitable assistance from your local utility company and do not qualify for LIHEAP, try state or local government agencies for other assistance programs. There is a series of useful resources arranged in links by state at www.utilitybillassistance.com.

You can also start out by checking the resources in your city government offices, and work your way up through county, regional, and state government branches.

Churches/Charities – Your local branch of the Salvation Army or other non-profit charities and church organizations may have assistance programs available for utility bills – and if not, perhaps assistance is available in other ways (such as food pantries and clothing banks) that help you divert more of your funds toward paying your utility bill.

Conserve When Possible – Are you adding to the problem by not taking simple energy saving steps such as sealing cracks around windows and doors, keeping vents appropriately open or closed depending on the season, and heating/cooling areas of the house that you do not use?

While these are small steps, when put together they can make a substantial difference in your bill while keeping your house at a comfortable temperature.

We hope that one or more of these sources can provide the help you need and keep your family safe and sheltered. One word of caution: do not let pride stop you from seeking assistance if you really need it. Take care of yourself and your family during this difficult time. Just remember the assistance you were given and when you are financially capable, repay that kindness to others in the same situation.

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