It can feel like your whole world is crashing down around you when you’re facing a pile of bills and have no money to pay them. You may not realize it while you’re cash-strapped, but you may have options.
Before panicking, take these seven steps to help find the relief you need.
1. Evaluate the damage
The first step is to figure out why you don’t have money to pay your bills.
If it’s because you lost your job or your income is too low to cover critical living expenses, that’s a true problem (and the tips below should help you find relief).
But if you’re broke because you’re spending too much money on fun things like entertainment, dining out, and shopping, that’s a different issue altogether. And it’s time to stop the bleeding.
Take a moment to add up all the income you have coming in right now. Then, add up your essential expenses: housing, utilities, groceries, transportation, and minimum debt payments. (Download our free monthly budget spreadsheet to sort out your spending.)
Do you have enough income to cover the essentials? If so, you may be able to free up enough money in your budget just by cutting down on non-essentials like dining out and shopping (for the time being). If not, follow these steps…
2. Contact your creditors
The next step is to contact your creditors and explain your situation. Many companies are willing to work with you if they know you’re having financial difficulties. They may be able to:
- Set you up with a payment plan.
- Offer forbearance (a temporary postponing of payment).
- Extend your due date.
- Waive late fees.
- Reduce your interest rate.
Creditors are humans, too — and many of them have hardship programs in place to help struggling customers. So, it’s worth calling and asking about them. The worst they can say is no.
Read more: When does an account go to collections, and how to avoid it
3. Prioritize your bills
Not all bills are created equal. Some, like your rent and utilities, are more important than others. Make a list of all your bills and prioritize them from most to least important.
Then, make note of which ones must be paid in full each month and which ones have minimum payments you can cover until you get back on your feet.
MU30 tip: Try to stay current on your debt payments as much as possible. Missing even one payment can lower your credit score, lead to late fees, and make it harder to find your financial footing.
If you have no choice but to miss a payment, notify your lender ahead of time and let them know what’s happening. As mentioned in tip no. 1, they may be able to work with you.
Read more: How credit works: understand the credit history reporting system
4. Look into government assistance programs
If you’re struggling to make ends meet, there may be nonprofit or government assistance programs available to you. These programs can help with things like food, housing, and healthcare costs.
For instance, you could look into:
- Unemployment benefits if you lost your job.
- Food stamps (also known as SNAP Food Benefits).
- A local food bank or food pantry.
- COVID-19 federal financial assistance for food, housing, and bills.
5. Find extra money
If you need cash right now, you may need to find ways to bring in extra money. Here are some ideas:
Sell your stuff
Selling some of your belongings could be a good option. You could have a garage sale, sell items online, or even go through your closet and donate clothes to a consignment shop. You’ll be surprised at how much money you can make by getting rid of things you don’t need.
Get a part-time job
If you have even a few extra hours a week, you could try to get a part-time job or drive for an app like Uber or DoorDash.
You can use the extra money to pay down your debts or pay bills. And once your financial situation is under control, you can quit the job and go back to your normal life.
Look into a cash advance app
There are several apps that offer free cash advances if you need money before your next payday. Dave is one example. It will advance you up to $250.
Chime Spot Me® is another. But its cash advance works more like overdraft protection, where it’ll cover up to $200 in overdrafted purchases on your debit card.5
There are typically no interest charges for cash advances, but you may pay membership fees for certain apps. And if you’re a new customer, your borrow limit may be reduced until you’ve built up a strong deposit history with the app.
Read more: Best cash advance apps to stretch your money until payday
Use your credit card
Paying off your credit card in full every month is always best practice. (I would typically recommend you do nothing else.)
But in true emergencies, racking up a small balance to cover a critical expense that can’t wait could give you some financial relief.
Just be sure to start with the credit card that has the lowest interest rate first. Then try to pay it off as quickly as possible to avoid accruing interest charges.
6. Create a budget
Building healthy financial habits can be difficult when money’s tight, but it’s worth the effort. And creating a budget can make all the difference.
At its core, a budget is all about tracking your income and expenses so you know where your money is going. Then, you can make adjustments as necessary to ensure you’re living within your means.
Read more: How to make a budget: step-by-step guide to managing your money
7. Consider credit counseling
If you’re having trouble managing your money, credit counseling may be a good option. Credit counselors can help you create a budget, negotiate with creditors, and even consolidate your debts.
But beware: there are a lot of scammy, sketchy companies out there that are just trying to make money off of people’s debts. Do your research ahead of time and make sure you find a company with a solid reputation.
One good option is CareOne Debt Relief Services. (Several people who work for Money Under 30 have used them in the past with good results.)
Read more: 10 things you should know about debt management programs
Paying bills with no money can be a tough ordeal, but there are a number of resources available to help you get back on track. With little effort, you can get your finances under control and take steps to improve your future.
Featured image: Pressmaster/Shutterstock.com5 Chime SpotMe is an optional, no fee service that requires a single deposit of $200 or more in qualifying direct deposits to the Chime Checking Account each month. All qualifying members will be allowed to overdraw their account up to $20 on debit card purchases and cash withdrawals initially, but may be later eligible for a higher limit of up to $200 or more based on member's Chime Account history, direct deposit frequency and amount, spending activity and other risk-based factors. Your limit will be displayed to you within the Chime mobile app. You will receive notice of any changes to your limit. Your limit may change at any time, at Chime's discretion. Although there are no overdraft fees, there may be out-of-network or third party fees associated with ATM transactions. SpotMe won't cover non-debit card transactions, including ACH transfers, Pay Anyone transfers, or Chime Checkbook transactions. See Terms and Conditions.