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What to do if you cannot pay a bill

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Can’t afford to pay the bills or struggling to repay debts? Regain control of your monthly budget with our guide.

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The last thing you need when you’re struggling with money is another bill you can’t afford to pay, but you should ignore it at your peril. 

Find out what you can do now to regain control of your household budget and ease your money worries.

1. Don't ignore the problem

If you're struggling to make a repayment, whether it's on your mortgage, credit card or another commitment, the worst thing you can do is to bury your head in the sand. The problem won’t go away and you run the risk of being stung by additional fees and charges.Tackling the problem head on will not only help you to find a practical solution it will make you feel a whole lot better too.

2. Make contact

As soon as you know that you're going to have trouble paying a bill the best thing to do is to get in touch with the company that sent it to you. They're likely to be much more understanding if you're upfront and honest with them and may be willing to extend the amount of time you have to repay or offer you more flexible terms.

3. Budget

Everyone should have a monthly budget, but it’s even more important to write one if you are spending more than you’re  earning and finding it difficult to keep on top of your bills.

Once you have worked out how much money you need to spend each month on housing, bills, food, insurance and other essentials like transport and debt repayments, you will  have a much better idea of how much you can afford to spend on other things.

Taking a fine-tooth comb through your bank statements and keeping a money diary for a week or so can be helpful in highlighting where your money is going.

Don’t forget to leave a buffer for ad hoc expenses too like birthday presents or school trips. 

4. Prioritise

Once you have a proper budget you will be in a much better position to prioritise your spending.

If you're struggling with money, food, shelter and heating should be given precedence over all of your other commitments, luxuries can wait until later. 

Take time to think about what expenses you can’t afford not to pay. These are likely to include:

  • Your mortgage or rent

  • Any loans secured against your home

  • Gas and electricity bills 

  • Food

  • Tax

  • Council tax

  • Child maintenance

  • Hire purchase agreements for essentials

The process of writing a budget may also highlight services or subscriptions that you either don’t need, don’t use or can no longer justify. These might include:

  • Gym memberships

  • TV or music streaming services

  • Newspaper subscriptions

  • Paid for apps on your phone

  • Gaming subscriptions

5. Cut the cost of essentials

You can’t cut essentials out of your budget altogether, but you can reduce the amount of money you spend on them. By shopping around the next time any insurance policies come up for renewal you could be able to save hundreds of pounds over the year. Similar savings can also be made by regularly reviewing your utilities to ensure that you aren’t paying any more than you need for your gas and electricity.

Meal planning and having a proper shopping list can also help you control the amount of money you spend on food.

6. Keep paying

It's really important to pay as much as you can towards the 'problem' bill, even if you're unable to cover the whole amount. Making regular payments will help to show your creditor that you're committed to clearing the balance despite being in financial difficulty and again, may encourage them to be more sympathetic to your cause. Paying as much as you can will also help to reduce the total amount you owe and the amount of interest that will accrue on the outstanding balance.

7. Get help

If the steps mentioned above aren’t enough to help you regain control and you are still worrying about money, it’s vital you get specialist advice.

However, don’t waste your money paying for advice. There are a number of not-for-profit organisations that will be able to give you free, confidential advice on how best to tackle your debts and deal with your creditors. It's a really good idea to get in touch with one of these charities as soon as you realise you're going to struggle with a bill. 

 Those to try to include:

If you are struggling financially you may also be eligible for financial help from the government, so always check whether you are claiming all the benefits you are entitled to.

8. Dodge the loan trap

Tempting as it can sound, taking out a new loan to cover bills that you're struggling to find the money for is rarely a good idea and definitely not a solution that's going to work over the long term. It’s also a bad idea putting bills on your credit card.  Instead seek  help from a qualified debt counsellor and take  the opportunity to sort out your finances, regain control and ultimately reduce your reliance on debt.

About Hannah Maundrell

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