When money’s tight, the last thing you need to happen is to have your lights or water shut off due to non-payment. This quick guide will offer tips to keep that from happening.
Are you receiving utility shutoff notices in your mailbox? Instead of tossing them in the trash, you’ll need to address the situation to keep the lights on, the water running, and the gas flowing.
This can be tough to do if you are on a limited income or have little cash flowing in. There are ways to work with utility companies, however, to buy you some time and make your bills more manageable. Let’s jump into them now.
True or False? Utility Companies Can Shut off Services
Before we jump into tips to keep your utilities from being suspended, let’s talk about a widespread misconception that surrounds the topic.
It’s a myth that a utility company cannot turn off your services for a failure to pay. As long as they warn you ahead of time, they can shut off your water, gas, electricity, etc. They can also make moves to ensure they don’t lose money in the future as well.
How can they protect themselves from financial loss with you as a customer? By charging you a deposit to get your services turned back on. They can then use this deposit, if needed, to pay a bill if you fail to do so.
State Laws That Protect Consumers Against Shutoffs
While utility companies as a whole can shut off services, some states have laws to protect consumers to keep it from happening. For instance, some states prevent disconnections when the winter rolls around and certain low temperatures are reached.
Others, by law, postpone disconnection if the customer sets up a payment plan. Lastly, some states outlaw the suspension of services if there is a household member who is dependent on a system for life support, disabled, elderly, or seriously ill.
To see your state’s laws on utility disconnections, consult the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), which can also offer assistance with your cooling and heating costs. You can see if you qualify for a LIHEAP grant by going here.
Setting up a Payment Plan With Your Utility Company
If you can’t pay your bills now, your utility company will expect you to at some point. To achieve this goal, they may let you catch up on your bills by negotiating a payment plan.
Such plans often come in two forms. The first adds part of your past due amount to future monthly bills. The second divides your annual utility expenses by 12.
How does this help you? By avoiding the costly surprise that comes with months carrying high cooling and heating costs, which usually happens in the summer or winter. If your monthly payments are equal, you’ll be able to handle your bills better and budget accordingly.
Where to Look for Utility Assistance
If you do not qualify for LIHEAP, there are other ways to find help. 211 can point you in the right direction. Dial it on your phone to speak to a local operator that may know services in your area which offer utility assistance.
You can also search online for utility assistance via local charities and churches.