Paying off debt when you're behind on your bills

One thing that's always frustrated me about the debt-free conversation is that we kind of gloss over one key aspect of it — and that is, getting current on your bills.

For those of you who are just starting out, I want to give you some encouragement.

We got out of debt following the Dave Ramsey Baby Steps. The first two steps are:

1. Coming up with a $1,000 emergency fund

2. Lining up your debts, smallest to largest, and paying off the smallest debt first; and then you go on from there

Buuuuuuut there's actually another step that no one seems to talk about — and that is, becoming current on your bills, for people who are so far behind.

I say it all the time: Let's not pretend like we're perfect little money angels. Life happens, and sometimes people get behind on their bills.

You cannot get off to a good start if you're starting at a deficit.

Let's say we're driving from Florida to California. We pull everything up on our GPS — that is like our budgets. And then, we fill our car with gas — that is our emergency fund. And each stop that we make on the trip is a baby step in becoming debt-free. 

But what if our car is missing a tire? We're not leaving the gas station parking lot. So that is like trying to pay off debt when you are so far behind.

That was a lot of talk to get here, which is some ways to get current on your bills.

Prioritize your bills.

We need to take a look and see what we are behind on. So log in to your accounts or pull out your statements and see where you are behind. 

The next thing you're going to want to do is prioritize who you're going to become current on. If it were me, and I was behind on my Visa bill and I was behind on my rent, I would focus on getting current on my rent. Because you need to have a safe place to live.

The next step is going to be making arrangements. 

If you're behind on your rent, talk to your landlord.

If it is a basic utility — like water, gas or electric — a lot of companies have hardship programs. You can often find information on these hardship programs at places like Goodwill and Salvation Army, also church offices. You can also just simply google utility hardship programs in your area and see if you qualify for them. Oftentimes, you have certain parameters you have to meet, like a job loss or a medical emergency. If that applies to you, ask for help from these organizations.

I know that where I live, our electric cooperative has a hardship program, so that if you do hav a medical or financial emergency, they will try to work with you. Obviously not all places are going to have this, but I really hope if this is your situation that yours does.

If you're behind on a credit card, you need to call the credit card company immediately and let them know your situation. Don't expect a lot of compassion. But ignoring it is not going to make it go away. So you're going to need to make arrangements with them.

Know that they will lie to you. They will tell you that they are going to send a uniformed officer to where you work if you do not pay. That's illegal. (I did a video about how to deal with a collection bully and I will link it up there and in the description below so that you know when you are being lied to.) But you do still need to make arrangements.

Under no circumstances should you ever give them access to your bank account.

And you need to get those arrangements, and the fact that it was paid, in writing. Have them send it in the mail to you or send you an email — something that you can print out and have in case you ever need proof. Ignoring the situation is not going to make it go away.

I know that it is hard, I know that it is embarrassing. I also know that this is temporary; you're going to get there.

Come up with extra income

I know that this is sometimes easier said than done, but come up with a way to make a little extra money. If it means selling things online or getting a side hustle, you can find a lot of jobs online. In fact, I was just talking to a lady at one of our community groups this week, and she does customer service from her home. She found the job by googling it.

Read: 10 Side-Hustles to Help You Earn Extra Income

There are lots of options out there if you are needing to pick up a little bit of extra income. It's not always easy. And taking on a second or third job is exhausting. But it is temporary. I know that this is not where you want to be. I know that this is not where you thought you're going to end up in life.

I know that being behind on your bills is scary and humiliating, but, no, it's not going to last forever.