The worst has happened: you can't make your rent this month. Here's what to do next.

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.

Emergency funds to the rescue

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.

Options for when you can’t make rent

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

Access your paycheck in advance

Another option for paying your rent: Earnin gives you access to your paycheck without charging you interest or fees. Plus Earnin community members can cash out a $100 Pay Period Max, with the option of increasing this amount up to $500 as you continue to use Earnin and successfully pay back the money you’ve borrowed successfully. You just have to make sure Earnin is connected to your main checking account where your paycheck is deposited.

Negotiate a late or partial payment with your landlord

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).

Borrow money to make rent

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 take advantage of 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.

Bounce the rent check

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 an insufficient fund fee yourself, but the check will not clear and your landlord will be charged a fee too.

What would you do?

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About the author

David Weliver
Total Articles: 304
David Weliver is the founder of Money Under 30. He's a cited authority on personal finance and the unique money issues he faced during his first two decades as an adult. He lives in Maine with his wife and two children.