27 September 2023

Making late payments? Here’s how to get on top of bills

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Nicole Dieker* shares tips on how to get on top of your bills and manage any missed payments.

Despite our best intentions, sometimes paying our bills on time isn’t something we can all manage.

For some people, the last two years have been a period of financial uncertainty and the stress of trying to decide which bill payment they need to prioritise has been a real struggle.

If you’re having trouble making ends meet due to coronavirus-related job loss or other financial issues, you might be asking yourself which bills you can afford to skip each month.

Should you make the credit card payment and put off the electricity bill, or is it better to do it the other way around?

Luckily, there’s an expert answer to this question—and it comes from a reputable source.

The U.S. National Consumer Law Centre (NCLC) recently made the digital edition of its classic book Surviving Debt: Expert Advice for Getting Out of Financial Trouble as a free download.

(Hat tip to CNBC for alerting us to this excellent resource.)

Rule #1, according to Surviving Debt, is “Prioritise Debts Whose Non-Payment Immediately Harms Your Family.”

These are your electric bills, your car loan payments, your child support bills and so on.

As the NCLC explains:

Non-payment of certain debts have sudden and dire consequences for your family.

Deal with these debts immediately—either pay these debts first or otherwise follow advice in this book on how to manage these debts.

Never pay smaller, low priority debts just because you cannot keep up with high priority debts—“If I can’t pay my mortgage, at least I will keep up with my credit cards.”

This is a bad idea.

If you don’t have enough money to make full payments on high priority debts, try to negotiate with the creditor to accept lower payments or save the money to be used later to get caught up, to cover the initial costs of moving to a new residence, or to pay for another car if your car is repossessed.

Note that the NCLC is including monthly expenses like rent and utilities in this category of “high-priority debt.”

If skipping one of these bills would directly harm yourself or your family, prioritise the payment.

If skipping a bill would have a less direct consequence, the way missing a credit card payment might hurt your credit score but probably wouldn’t cause you to lose your house, de-prioritise the payment.

Don’t pay that bill until your high-priority bills are taken care of—and look for options that might help you postpone that bill until the future.

Of course, the coronavirus pandemic has prompted many companies and lenders to be more lenient with consumers, whether through certain programs or simply by offering a couple months of free services.

When it comes down to deciding which debts take priority and which debts can be postponed, knowing which bills you can put off—and which lenders you need to contact to request forbearance options—will help you protect both your family and your finances during these difficult times.

So take the NCLC’s advice, and maybe go read the free online version of Surviving Debt while you’re at it.

While keeping your bills in order is definitely helpful, it’s also important to make sure you’re not overpaying with your current energy provider.

The best way to do this is to compare your current costs to other providers in your area.

We’ve partnered with a powerful comparison tool called eConnex to help make this process fast and easy.

You can even use your most current bill details to get an accurate comparison.

Enter your postcode in the box below to get started.

*Nicole Dieker is a contributor at LifeHacker.

This article first appeared at lifehacker.com.

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