I Can’t Pay My Gas, Water And Electricity Bills. What Do I Do?
Chris Wojcik Student, Loyola University Chicago
Currently, the United States is facing its worst unemployment crisis since the Great Depression. In April alone, 20 million jobs were lost, bringing the rate to 14.7%.
About half of American lower income households have experienced a job loss or some sort of pay cut during the Coronavirus pandemic due to layoffs, furloughs or other reasons. Because of this, many families are also having trouble paying utilities like gas, water, or electricity.
Even before the pandemic, 31 percent of American households struggled to pay utility bills each month.
If you can’t pay your utility bills during the pandemic, you can still get access to water and electricity by playing your cards right.
Figuring out how to get help can be overwhelming. Here are a couple suggestions to help you get started:
Check to see what aid is available in your state
Each state has a public utilities commission in some form or another. A public utilities comission is an organization designated by the state that deals with utility companies and their rates and services.
Here’s what that means in some of the most populous states:
In California, there are several payment assistance plans that are designed to help you pay your bills during this global crisis. Your potential eligibility for each state’s plan is based on where you fall in the income bracket provided by the state resources.
In New York, there are also programs through the state that can help you pay your utility bills when you are physically unable to. The state offers something called “deferred payment agreements” (DPA) in which you agree to pay off your bill over time as opposed to all at once.
If you are offered a DPA and it’s unaffordable, you can appeal it and try to get one that is more affordable to you right now. If you have filed an appeal and are waiting to hear back, your utilities cannot legally be turned off during the waiting period.
If you live in Illinois, you have the opportunity to be involved in the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). You can apply for this program locally depending on which part of the state you live in.
The application process in Illinois typically begins in early October, and ends in late June.
Texas also has a program for people who are unable to pay utility bills due to income related issues. In Texas, your bill must specify the requirements that must be paid in order to prevent the utilities from being shut off.
To enroll in Texas’ plan, click here.
None of these states want to turn off your utilities. But if you don’t make an effort to contact them, they may.
See if the utility company is offering any assistance
In the midst of the pandemic, several of the major service providers are offering discounts, relief packages, and more.
ComEd (Illinois based), ConEdison (New York), Duke Energy (the nation's largest provider serving the midwest, Carolinas, and Florida) have all announced assistance plans and plans to not turn off electricity for those who are unable to pay.
Cable isn’t a luxury. It’s how most Americans get their internet service.
In the phone company sector, T-Mobile, Verizon, and Sprint are a few of the companies that have offered benefits like leniency with bills, unlimited or extra data, and no extra charges for long distance calls.
If you are a customer of one of these companies, check to see what benefits you may be able to get through your provider before going to a state provided resource.
Can I use a credit card to pay my utility bills?
If you want to pay your utilities with a credit card, you can. However, this will come with some added complications.
One of the pros of using a credit card to pay your utilities is that you will never miss a payment. Furthermore, you might be able to earn rewards on your credit card if your card offers them.
If you are eventually able to pay off this card and your utility company reports to the credit bureaus, then you will be able to simultaneously improve your credit score while keeping your utilities running.
However, using a credit card to pay your utilities also has drawbacks. Some states will actually charge you a fee if you pay your utilities with a credit card.
Also, if you don’t pay off your credit card bill in full every monthy, interest rates from the credit card will make that utility bill cost you more in the long run.
Using your credit card to pay your utilities bills is really only the best approach if you know you are going to be able to pay the debt off in the long run. If you are currently experiencing a significant reduction in income and expect your income to return after the pandemic passes.
Court Buddy is here to connect you with an experienced and trusted lawyer who can help you at an affordable rate. The company assists with the management of your case and lawyer relationship. Your lawyer will assess your legal issue in a timely and confidential manner, explain why you need or do not need a lawyer, and only charge you for the legal services performed and associated out of pocket fees. This article is intended to convey general information and does not constitute legal advice.