There are certain steps you can take to quickly resolve any issues that come up if you accidentally miss a payment on your utility bills. But what if you have fallen severely behind on making payments in full or struggle to keep up with all utility statements?
Talk to Your Service Provider
If you miss a payment, regardless of utility type, one of the first steps you should take is to contact the service provider. Talk to your provider about your financial situation and see what type of help is available for your circumstance.
Review Relief Plans By State
Depending on the state you live in, some gas and electric utility service providers may offer special payment plans to consumers facing financial hardship or cash assistance.
The state of California, for example, offers various assistance programs through the state’s major utility service providers. Those with PG&E as their servicer may receive assistance through the Relief for Energy Assistance Through Community Help (REACH) program for low-income customers experiencing severe, uncontrollable or unplanned hardships that are unable to pay for their energy needs. PG&E also offers a program called Budget Billing. This allows customers to pay the same amount every month by averaging household energy costs for the last 12 months.
Other service providers across the state, including Edison, Southern California Gas Company and SDG&E offer financial assistance funds and level pay plans for customers in need. A full list of utility assistance programs may be found through the California Public Utilities Commission. Check in with your state of residence and their utilities commission to determine which programs may be available to you.
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Review Available Government Resources
Outside of directly reaching out to your service provider, there are government programs that may provide assistance with your home heating and cooling bills.
One of these assistance programs is the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). LIHEAP offers assistance in paying heating or cooling bills and emergency services in the event of utility shutoffs. Eligibility requirements vary by state, city and region with different application rules and requirements per local LIHEAP offices.
Those who qualify for LIHEAP assistance may not use these funds to pay water or sewer bills. You may find a full list of LIHEAP contacts through the interactive map available on NEADA.org.
How To Stay on Top of Utility Payments
It’s easy to fall behind on utility bills and struggle to get fully caught up again. Falling behind on utility statements may negatively impact your credit score and cause your credit to drop, even if you miss just one payment. The longer you fall behind on utility bills, the more likely the service providers are to terminate service. In some cases, this may happen as early as one week after the bill’s due date. Those who lose service will also be required to pay back the bill and an additional late fee to restore services, too.
The best approach to staying on top of utility payments is to contact your service provider and discuss your financial situation ahead of time rather than wait until the last minute to get help. If you qualify for relief programs, apply quickly to ensure your utilities are protected through these plans.
Those struggling to remember the due date for their utility statements may decide to set their bills on autopay to ensure they never miss a payment. It’s also possible to call your service provider and see if they are open to changing the due date of your utility bill. This may allow you to better remember the due date and schedule that payment, along with any other outstanding utilities, all on the same day to better maintain peace of mind in knowing your utilities are paid in full.
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This article originally appeared on GOBankingRates.com: 3 Steps To Take if You’re Behind on Utility Bill Payments