How To Get Help Paying Your Utility Bills

If you can’t pay your utility bills, you’re in a dangerous and vulnerable situation. Fortunately, there are organizations that can assist you in covering the costs, whether you’re already behind on your payments or don’t think you’ll be able to make your next one.

Learn what happens if you are unable to pay your utility bills and which organizations can assist you financially.

What if you are unable to pay your utility bills?

Service providers will generally not disconnect your services if you miss a payment by a day or two, so you can breathe easier if you’ve missed a payment by a day or two. However, it is critical to act quickly.

Missed payments can cascade, making it more difficult to catch up and even affecting other aspects of your finances. After missing a payment, you may be charged a late fee or your service provider may disconnect your service. To re-establish services, some companies may charge a reconnection fee.

Your credit score is also an important consideration. While energy companies do not report utility bills to credit bureaus on a regular basis, unpaid utility bills can have an impact on your credit score. Your provider may send your past-due account information to credit bureaus if your overdue balance is sent to a collection agency.

Collection accounts can harm your credit score and your ability to obtain credit-related products and services. When you begin services with a new company, you may even be required to pay a security deposit.

Depending on your state and the time of year, you may be subject to a moratorium on service disconnections. Service providers may not be allowed to disconnect services in extreme weather, for low-income residents, or for residents who have applied for government emergency assistance under the moratorium.

If you are on life support or have other medical needs that necessitate utility services, your utility company may be prohibited from disconnecting them if you have notified them. Check with your state utilities commission to learn about the regulations and safeguards in your area.

Note
Working with the utility company ahead of time can help you stay caught up and keep your account from going into default.

Alternatives to Suffering

There are a few places where you can get assistance with paying your utility bills. The best place to begin is with your service provider. Contact customer service to explain your situation and inquire about your options. Your service provider may allow you to request an extension, pay your bill in installments, or refer you to a partner organization that can assist you.

Depending on your income, you may be eligible for assistance from the federal and local programs and organizations listed below.

Home Energy Assistance Program for Low-Income Families (LIHEAP)

LIHEAP is a federally funded program managed by the Department of Health and Human Services that assists with home energy bills as well as other energy-related issues such as crises and weatherization.

Low-income families with a child, disabled family member, or senior citizen are eligible for assistance. To qualify (in most cases), your previous month’s total household income must be at or below 150% of the federal poverty level:

Household Size Pre-Tax Yearly Income Limit
1 $19,320
2 $26,130
3 $32,940
4 $39,750
5 $45,650
6 $53,370
7 $60,180
8 $66,990

All household members must provide a copy of their utility bill as well as proof of income. For more information and to apply, contact your state program administrator. Some states’ eligibility requirements may differ.

Note
If you receive other benefits such as SNAP, SSI, TANF, or certain need-tested veteran benefits, you may be automatically eligible.

The Salvation Army is a Christian charity.

Your local Salvation Army may work with utility companies to provide emergency assistance with utility bills. Eligibility requirements vary depending on the local program, but in general, programs assist individuals with low income, the elderly, or the disabled. Other situational eligibility requirements may apply, such as a current unpaid utility bill, a lack of access to other forms of assistance, and the need to submit a payment in order to continue or restore services.

To learn more about program eligibility, contact your local Salvation Army chapter.

Call 2-1-1

Dial 2-1-1 from anywhere in the country to find community-based organizations that can help you. Some local organizations that provide emergency utility assistance, such as Jewish Family and Community Services, require a referral from a 211 agency.

Utility Bill Saving Strategies

Lowering your utility bills can make them more affordable and easier to balance with your other expenses. Your utility service provider may provide billing options to assist you in lowering your monthly costs.

Budget billing, for example, smooths out seasonal fluctuations and allows you to pay the same amount each month. If you can use more electricity during non-peak hours, you can save money with “time-advantage” or “time-of-use” billing.

A home energy audit will ensure that your home is using energy efficiently. The audit can help you identify areas in your home where energy is being wasted. Some government programs assist low-income households with weatherization costs.

Lowering your energy consumption can help you save money on future utility bills. Even simple actions such as unplugging unused electronics, turning off lights that aren’t in use, and washing clothes in cold water can reduce your energy consumption and make your bill more manageable.

Important Takeaways
The first place to look for options for delaying your due date or working out an installment plan is with your utility service provider.
Low-income families may be eligible for government assistance through LIHEAP.
Nonprofit, charitable, and religious organizations in your community may be able to provide financial assistance or connect you with other resources.