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What to Do When You Can’t Pay All Your Bills

You’ve lost your job or for some other reason don’t have enough money to pay all of your bills. Which bills should you pay first and which ones can slide for a while?

 

 

Couple stressed and worried looking at bills

 

Here’s a basic rule of thumb according to the Boston-based National Consumer Law Center in its book, Surviving Debt:

“Always pay essential expenses and debts first. If any money is left, you can decide which nonessential debts, if any, to keep in your expense budget.”

An essential debt represents a serious obligation that if not paid could produce severe, even life-threatening consequences.

Do not make payments on nonessential debts when you have not paid essential ones even if your nonessential creditors are breathing down your neck. Keep your priorities straight.

Please do not misunderstand! I am not suggesting that you should just walk away from your financial obligations. You must pay your creditors, you must pay your bills. To not pay them is not an option.

Of course, it is not ideal to let some of your bills slide for awhile. But your situation is what it is. Your resources are severely limited. In time, as things improve (they will) you will be able to get caught up completely.

But for now, you need to know how to get through this month.

Once you’ve determined which bills are essential, prioritize them according to the severity of the consequences you will suffer for non-payment.

Here is a guide to follow, listed by priority. Read more

The Gift of a Crisis

It was the worst day of my life. Not one of the worst days. Not a day where not one thing seems to go right. Worse than that.

Woman in crisis with head down on desk

Worse than any day I’d ever experienced before that day, worse than any day since. And I would say that like most people, I’ve had some real doozies.

I was in crisis, the kind that took my breath away and made me believe I had no hope. My world crashed. 

We were four months behind on our mortgage. All of the credit accounts were maxed to the hilt, and beyond. We had bills on top of bills, collections up the wazoo. We had no money and worse, no jobs. Not one between us. Nothing coming in. I hate to tell you even how much credit-card debt I’d run up and the size of our mortgage and automobile leases. It was really, really bad.

This was not a crisis that developed overnight. It started gradually, of course.

Not many people start out in financial trouble. Neither did I. It happened quite innocently, really.

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How to Curb Emotional Spending in 5 Easy Steps

Somewhere back in my dark financial past, I discovered that emotional spending was a great antidepressant. I spent to change my mood, to reward myself and to make myself feel better. 

I spent money when I felt sad and when I felt glad. I spent money so I wouldn’t feel broke. I spent to get approval, to make my kids more popular, to impress people I didn’t even know. The list goes on and on. 

 

 

Emotional spending, or it’s much cuter name “retail therapy,” was my go-to activity when I was feeling stressed out, bored, under-appreciated, incompetent, unhappy or any number of other emotions. In fact, I’ve been known to spend mindlessly just because I’m happy.

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How Materialism Leads to Discontentment

I should not have even picked it up. I knew better. After all, what was I expecting from a magazine titled simply, SHOP Etc.? 

I can say with all honesty that before flipping open the magazine, I needed nothing. Not a thing. I was content and quite busy with my work. If anything was tugging at my attention it was my garden and all my planting issues—not a lack of shoes, clothes, and household items. 

Close-up of woman mindlesssly wandering through a catalog creating discontentment

In the space of just a few minutes, everything changed. Just like that, I needed new shoes (Kors, $235), sunglasses in the hot purple shade for summer (Prada, $245) and of course The Cutest Suit (J. Crew, $296).

And once I realized the new must-haves for the kitchen, everything I have now seemed completely unacceptable and hopelessly out of style. I need new Czech goblets (Crate and Barrel, $8.95 each), a stainless steel sink (Kohler, $1,815) and faucet (Essex, $385). Don’t even get me started on all the things I realized I need for my bedroom, patio and living areas. How naïve I was only a few minutes earlier feeling content and quite satisfied with my life. A mere 164 pages later, I was filled with inadequacy and discontentment. 

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Should you Repair or Replace your Broken Appliances?

You’re worried the washing machine may be on its last spin cycle. It makes a horrible screeching sound and needs a lot of coaxing to make it all the way through a full cycle. Should you spend $319 to fix this inefficient appliance or replace it with a $999 new model that will use less electricity and water? Deciding whether to repair or replace your broken appliance—especially when trying to discover which option will save money in the long run—can be challenging.

 

Here are some basic guidelines and suggestions to help you decide, based on costs for replacement and repairs and the advantages of new models.

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The Ugly Truth About No-Interest No-Payments Offers

Have you ever wondered how retailers can possibly afford to offer the no-interest, no-payments, no money down kind of deals you see advertised? That was the subject of a question I received recently.

Woman with hand to her chin wondering about no-interest no-payments retail offers

Dear Mary: There are several appliances, electronics, and furniture stores in our area that run television commercials offering nothing down, no-interest, no-payments until 2022. It sounds like I can just walk in and take what I want and not pay for three years! How do these companies really make money? Kate

Dear Kate: First, these offers are on approved credit and come with a lot of other fine print. You need pristine credit to qualify for those attractive terms.

Good luck qualifying

One retailer told me only about 25% of the people who apply for these amazing no-interest no-payments offers,  designed only to get buyers through the door, can actually qualify. The other 75% are offered some other deal with horrible terms. People often accept these terms because, by the time they fill out the paperwork, they’re so emotionally involved and have their hearts set on that “free” absolutely awesome deal, they’re anxious to sign anything.

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Top 10 Student Loan Tips for Recent Graduates—and Not So Recent, Too!

Whether you just graduated, you’re taking a break from school, or have already started repaying your student loans, these tips will help you keep your student loan debt under control.

 

Recent graduate stressed confused worried by student loan debt

By “under control” I’m talking about

  • avoiding fees and extra interest costs
  • keeping your payments affordable
  • protecting your credit rating
  • paying those loans in full as quickly as possible

If you’re having trouble finding a job or keeping up with your payments, there’s vitally important information here for you, too.

1. Know your loans

It’s crucial that you keep track of the lender, balance and repayment status for each of your student loans. These details determine your options for loan repayment and possibilities for forgiveness.

If you’re not sure, ask your lender or visit NSLDS.ed.gov. You can log in and see the loan amounts, lender(s), and repayment status for all of your federal loans.

In the event that some of your loans aren’t listed, they’re probably private (non-federal) loans. For those, try to find a recent billing statement or the original paperwork that you signed. Contact your school if you can’t locate any records.

2. Know your grace period

Different loans have different grace periods. A grace period is the amount of time between leaving school before you must make your first payment.

It’s six months for federal Stafford loans, but nine months for federal Perkins loans.

(Under federal law, the authority for schools to make new Perkins Loans ended on Sept. 30, 2017, and final disbursements were permitted through June 30, 2018. As a result, students can no longer receive Perkins Loans.)

For the federal parent or PLUS loans, there is no grace period. When payments begin depends on when the loans were issued (see details).

The grace periods for private student loans vary, so consult your paperwork or contact your lender to find out. Don’t miss your first payment.

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16 Ways to Stop Worrying and Start Living the Life You Love

If you’ve ever been in serious debt or are right now you know the feeling that your creditors own you lock, stock and bank account. I’ve been there, I know.

Debt steals your freedom one option at a time until you become its prisoner.

woman-with-debt-worried-about-bills-to-pay

 

Debt keeps you chained to a job you hate. It keeps you stuck in the past, unable to move forward in life. And big debt causes terrible stress that makes it hard to breathe, keeps you awake, spoils relationships and zaps the joy out of living.

It makes sense that if debt steals your options, then repaying debt creates financial freedom. But that’s not necessarily true.


RELATED: The Difference Between Safe Debt and Stupid Debt is Huge


If you spend just the amount you earn, you won’t be living beyond your means or creating new debt to bridge the shortfall, but you will be broke at the end of every month spinning your wheels, living from one paycheck to the next.

The first rule of sound money management is to live below your means—spend less than you earn. This means creating a margin between what you earn and what you spend. The secret to finding financial freedom—freedom from financial worry, fear and want—is in the gap between the amount you earn and what you spend.

The bigger the gap, the more freedom you will enjoy. It’s the money you don’t spend that gives you the freedom to grow your dreams and prepare for the future.

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