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Asking for help doesn't always come naturally - particularly for those who let pride get in the way or those who simply may not be aware that a helping hand is out there, just waiting for you to grab on. In times of need, however, particularly when you need help with bills, it's time to take some action. After all, no one should be forced to choose between paying utility bills and feeding their family.
The grim reality is that many Americans need help paying bills. And the need is not limited to low-income families. Families of all shapes and sizes, whether through unexpected medical bills, sudden job loss or any other myriad of circumstances, can find themselves in need.
Bill paying help ranges from customized payment plans to government programs designed to help jobless homeowners avoid foreclosure. You just have to understand your options and seek help. And while contacting creditors directly is often a solid strategy, there are times when you can reduce future bills through smart budgeting and decision-making, and other times when you need an expert. Here are some tips to get started.
The first step is to free up money in your current budget. Write down your monthly bills including the name, amount and due date. Use this information to prioritize what to pay and when. Your mortgage, car loans and any other secured debt should come first.
If that doesn't work, there are great ways to get help with paying bills without taking out loans:
One word of caution: Avoid taking on more debt by taking out a home equity loan, borrowing against a retirement account, or bridging the gap between needing to pay for expenses and receiving your next paycheck with payday loans. While these solutions may work for some, many of these options create more debt problems than they solve due to their high interest rates and the long length of these loans.
Another way to get help paying bills is to join a debt consolidation program, which can address unsecured debt (e.g., credit card bills, store cards, medical bills, student or personal loans, accounts in collection, etc.).
The two methods of debt consolidation are:
A reputable debt consolidation company can help you choose the best plan based on your income level, type of debt, and your ability to make consistent payments.
If paying basic living expenses is a challenge, bill paying help is available for those needs, too.
If you need help paying rent, research assistance programs offered by your state, federal government, or other independent organization and charities. For example, U.S. Housing and Urban Development offers rental assistance and vouchers, including special offers for U.S. veterans.
Alternatively, when you own a home and fall behind on payments, you could risk foreclosure. Lenders are often willing to work with troubled borrowers to help keep their homes. Ask your lender about negotiating a forbearance, where you reduce or suspend payments for a short period of time and agree to bring your loan current by a specified, future date. Alternatively, seek mortgage modifications with your lender, or refinance or extend the term of your mortgage to lower monthly payments.
If you've lost your job, the U.S. government also offers foreclosure prevention programs. Ask your lender if you qualify for relief through the HFA Hardest-Hit Fund or its complementary Emergency Homeowners Loan Program.
Financial help to pay bills is also available for in-home expenses. If you need help paying your light bill, for example, and fit the low-income requirements, contact your local Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP). HEAP is federally funded and issues benefits to supplement a household's annual energy cost. HEAP also offers an emergency benefit for households in a heat-related energy emergency.
Also, contact your utility directly and inquire about any hardship or budget programs. Your provider might offer retroactive budget billing, which evens out payments so customers aren't as affected by seasonal bill increases caused by increased usage.
Keep the convenience of cellular phones and cable services by lowering your monthly bill. Start by analyzing your rate plan as recent offers may be more economical. And, if you're not optimizing your talk minutes, text allotments or TV channels, switch to a cheaper plan.
Finally, if you're disabled and require a telephone to help you handle an emergency, contact your local telephone company about any special discounts so you can pay only a minimum amount due.
Medical bills may sometimes arrive unexpectedly, but enlist these cost-saving strategies to minimize the impact:
In addition to the above strategies, get help on paying bills through your local government aid assistance programs, charities, and community and religious groups. Look in the Yellow Pages or search the Internet for locations near you.
These are indeed daunting economic times for many Americans who struggle to make ends meet, and keep a roof over their heads and food on their tables. Reach out your hand today and accept help paying for bills.
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