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5 Tools to help when you can’t pay your bills

By Rebecca Lake
May 5, 2020

Losing your job or side hustle can deal a blow to your finances, especially if you can’t pay bills due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

Indeed, millions of Americans are now out of work, and among those who have lost jobs, 88% say they’re worried about their bank account being drained to zero. 

Yet, if you’re struggling to keep up with your monthly bills, there are resources that can help you get a grip financially. Take a look at 5 tools to help you pay your bills

1. Bill calendars and bill notifications

The first step to staying on top of your bills during tough financial times is knowing which bills are due and when they need to be paid. A bill calendar and/or bill notifications can help. 

A bill calendar is a digital or physical calendar that you use to record your bill due dates and amounts. Creating a bill calendar makes it easier to see at a glance which bills are due for the month.

Bill notifications, on the other hand, are text or email alerts you set up to remind you when a due date is approaching. You can set up due date notifications through online or mobile banking. You may also be able to set reminders directly with your billers. 

Once you know what’s due for the month, you can figure out how to best pay your bills. For example, you can prioritize which bills to pay first, which typically include:

  • Rent or mortgage payments
  • Essential utilities
  • Food
  • Transportation
  • Health care

After you’ve paid these bills, you can review your budget to see what else you can afford to pay for the month. 

2. Expense trackers

When money is tight, it’s important to know where your money goes. An expense tracker can help you better understand how you’re spending and what you can cut back on. 

There are different tools you can use to track expenses. A spreadsheet or budgeting worksheet is one option; an expense tracking app is another. You can also track spending by logging into your bank account and monitoring your daily and weekly activity.

When you can’t pay bills because you aren’t working, cutting out the non-essentials is priority number one. So that might mean eliminating things like:

The fewer expenses you have, the better. If you’re not sure what to cut, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau offers a free expense cutting tool you can use as a guide. 

3. Debt tracking and repayment tools

Falling behind on bills with debt payments can hurt your credit score if late payments are reported to the credit bureaus. If you’re prioritizing basic expenses over debt repayment, there are a few tools you can use to stay on top of what you owe.

First, you can use a debt tracker to record each debt you have, how much you owe, the minimum payment due and the interest rate. The CFPB offers a free downloadable debt tracking sheet you can use. 

There are also tools you can use to make your debt less of a budget burden when you can’t pay bills. Here are some of the options you might consider:

  • Credit card hardship programs
  • Debt consolidation programs
  • Student loan deferment or forbearance programs
  • Mortgage forbearance and/or loan modification if you own a home
  • Skip-a-payment options for personal or car loans
  • Loan refinancing

During the coronavirus outbreak, the federal government has offered a number of options to provide financial relief for people who are struggling to pay bills. 

For example, federal student loan payments were automatically put into forbearance for eligible borrowers through September 30, 2020. Homeowners can also defer mortgage payments for up to 360 days if they’re experiencing financial hardship. 

The options available may depend on the type of debt you have. So, if you’re having a hard time paying bills, it helps to talk to your creditors or lenders to see if they can help. 

One more thing: If you’re struggling with rent payments, stay in touch with your landlord. While many states have banned evictions during the COVID-19 outbreak, you can still try to work with your landlord to find a solution for managing rent payments

4. Credit monitoring tools

Finding yourself in a position where you can’t pay bills, even if it’s just temporary, can hurt your credit score if late or missed payments pile up. 

During the coronavirus pandemic, many people are struggling. And, scammers and identity thieves may try to capitalize on this. For this reason, it’s essential that you keep an eye on your credit.

You can review your credit report from each of the three credit bureaus for free through If you’d like to have ongoing access to credit report updates month to month, you can also sign up for a free credit monitoring service, which will keep tabs on your credit report and notify you when there are any changes. 

When reviewing your credit report, you can also use this guide to check for errors. If you find an error, you can then dispute it. 

5. Tools for increasing income

If you can’t pay bills due to lost income, there are steps you can take to replace your earnings. For starters, you may be able to apply for unemployment benefits if you were laid off from your job.

In response to COVID-19 and associated job losses, the federal government approved emergency unemployment assistance benefits to eligible workers. You can also file for pandemic unemployment assistance benefits if you’re a freelancer or gig worker under the temporary rules. 

While unemployment benefits can help make up lost income, you may also want to take on a side job to earn more money. Check out some ideas for at-home side gigs here

Help is available when you can’t pay bills

When you can’t pay bills, this can be stressful. Yet, there are things you can do to cope. 

Keeping an eye on your bank account, for example, will help you see how much money you have and what you’re spending on. From there, you can follow the 5 steps in this article to help you pay your bills and take control of your finances. 

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