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When the money you’ve got just won’t go far enough, you need to know how to strategically pay some bills — and minimize the fallout from not paying them all.
Let's get straight to the help. Use the tool below to find help with the bills you can't pay.
Prioritize your bills
First, protect the essentials. These include shelter, food, heat, lights, transportation and whatever else you need to be able to work, such as child care and phone service. (Learn how to lower those bills.) What’s not essential? Everything else.
Your credit may suffer if you have to let some bills go unpaid — but you can rebuild your credit later. For now, focus on the basics.
» MORE: Why is my electric bill so high?
You may need to move if you can’t afford where you’re living. There’s an exception to this rule, however. If you can’t afford your mortgage payment, you may want to stay put. The foreclosure process typically takes several months, which means you could stay in your current home for free while you try to fix the rest of your financial life.
» MORE: What is a utility bill?
Know what happens when you can't pay a bill
Use the tool above to see how long you’ve got on each type of bill before consequences begin. Virtually any skipped payment hurts you somehow. But there’s a big difference between missing a credit card payment and missing one for, say, child support.
You’ll also find resources, where applicable, that might help you find some breathing room.
What to do if you can't catch up on your bills
While working hard to get caught up on your bills, you may come to the realization that the effort is ultimately hopeless. Perhaps you're just too far behind.
In that case, you may consider bankruptcy or entering a debt management plan. A visit with a nonprofit credit counselor or a bankruptcy attorney can help you determine the best options available, and initial consultations are typically free.
If you are sued, it’s important to show up in court — otherwise a default judgment will be entered against you that can lead to wage garnishment and raids on your bank account. Many states allow you to be arrested for failing to respond to a court order to appear about a debt.