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What to Do When You’re Short on Rent

Cubicle life is full of awkward moments, especially when coworkers make personal calls at work. They go from embarrassing to bizarre, but here’s one call I didn’t expect to hear: “Mr. Landlord, I’m going to be late with the rent this month.”

I was a bit shocked to hear this happening to a coworker. We’re not getting rich here in the publishing business, but we’re all educated folks making living wages or better.

But whether you’re a landlord or a tenant (past or present), you know the story: Some unexpected expenses come up (take your pick: car repairs, medical bills, parking tickets, etc), and all of a sudden the 1st of the month rolls around and the money to pay the rent just isn’t there.

This is where an emergency fund would come in handy.

Personal finance pundits love to preach the importance of growing an emergency fund of two to six months’ salary. But if you’re dealing with debt, that’s a fantasy, not a realistic goal.

But in this situation, two week’s pay might do the trick to cover the rent until your next paycheck.

It saves an embarrassing call to your landlord to ask for an extension, and it avoids the even less desirable prospect of borrowing to pay the rent.

What would you do?

But in this situation, two week’s pay might do the trick to cover the rent until your next paycheck.

If you don’t have a small cushion saved up, or has ever wondered why you would need one, consider the possibility of not having the rent money ready.

And if you can’t make rent and don’t have some savings to tap, what are your options?

1. Negotiate a late or partial payment with your landlord.
2. Borrow money to make rent.
3. Bounce the rent check.

Calling your landlord to ask for an extension is embarrassing, but it’s probably the best option. (Just don’t make the call from work!) Most landlords should appreciate that you’re upfront about your situation rather than simply being late. (Note: even if you own your home, the same tactic can work with your mortgage company. If you really can’t pay on time call your bank to let them know. If it doesn’t happen often, they can often spare you penalties and a negative mark on your credit).

Next on the list is borrowing money. Try to get a friend or family member to help you out first, and only turn to credit cards as a last resort. If you absolutely need to take a cash advance on a credit card, use a credit card that has a $0 balance to start with, if possible, and pay it off the very same day you get the money.

Why? Credit cards rape customers on cash advances. In addition to paying a 3% fee just to get the money, you’ll pay 20% or more in interest that is computed daily. On top of that, if you already have a balance going on your credit card, your card company will apply all of your payments to that existing balance before your payments ever touch the higher-interest cash advance. Not good.

Finally, if you have overdraft protection in your checking account, you could write the check anyway. Your bank will pay the check but put your account negative and charge you a fee of $25 or more. Not something you want to do often, if ever, but it can be done. If you DO NOT have overdraft protection, never do this, as you will not only incur a insufficient fund fee yourself, but the check will not clear and your landlord will be charged a fee too.

What would you do?

Published or updated on November 1, 2007

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About David Weliver

David Weliver is the founding editor of Money Under 30. He's a cited authority on personal finance and the unique money issues we face during our first two decades as adults. He lives in Maine with his wife and two children.


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  1. jacky says:

    i like the idea of having a bit of money saved up but u are absolutley right it is hard i pay my next moths rent in advance whenever i can therefore i am now 4 months ahead on rent which is nice when u have unexpected bills i dont rely on anyone for help i am a 28 yr old grown woman and at some point we all need to put on our big kid pants and prioritize

  2. nick says:

    Why not just rent a truck, get a couple buddies, pack it up, and tak off in the dark of the night..Find a nice bridge and move under that..Very cheap rent under highway overpasses..

  3. Good points, selling something is definitely a good option, and reevaluating those expenses is a must.

    I would never lend money to a coworker — that’s asking for an awkward situation, but what if it were a family member or close friend? Assuming it’s the first time it happened, a loan might be tempting, though as you suggest, probably a bad idea!

  4. boomie says:

    I’d sell something quickly. He knew for a while that he was going to be late with rent. That would have given him some time to liquidate something. Craigslist, eBay and yes! a pawnshop if all else fails. (NEVER A PAYDAY LOAN EVER!)
    I would NEVER take a cash advance from a credit card. That is only making matters worse.

    Also, if I was late on my rent (or mortgage) I’d take a good hard long look at my spenditures. Where is my money going? What am I spending it on? Rent (mortgage) comes first, then food, then utilities. Everything else can go on hold for a while. I’d be packing my lunch, coffee, snacks-whatever- and seriously STOP all spending of money till I get my financial matters in order.


    Maybe you could invite the guy out for coffee and ask him how things are. I’d offer him advice only. Absolutely NO MONEY. But I would sure let him know I was available to listen and help.

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