Personal Finance 

Struggling? Which Bills You Should Pay First

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Paying bills here is funWhen you are struggling financially, one of the difficult decisions you have to make is which bills to pay first, and which to let slide. The truth is that some bills are more important than others. You need to ensure that you do what you can to keep up with the most important bills so that you don’t end up in even worse trouble.

As you consider which bills to pay, here are some things to keep in mind:

Secured vs. Unsecured

The first thing you have to consider is whether or not you are looking at secured bills or unsecured bills. If your debt is secured, then you probably ought to pay it quickly. Your mortgage is secured by your home. If you don’t make your mortgage payment, you could lose your home. You also need to realize that your real estate taxes can be part of that equation. If you don’t pay these taxes, though, you can see a lien, and your home could be taken from you.

Other bills have similar issues. If you don’t pay your auto loan, you lose your car. When you need your car to get to work, losing it can be a problem — especially if you’re already behind on your bills. Think about which bills come with similar consequences. Even if you don’t have a mortgage, and you are paying rent, you still have something solid attached to your bills; if you don’t pay your rent, you can be kicked out.

Unsecured bills, on the other hand, are a different matter. If you don’t pay your credit card bills, you aren’t going to lose your home in most cases. Your creditors can sue you, but you have some protections when the bills are unsecured. So, if you have to choose between secured and unsecured bills, you want to cover the secured bills first.

What are Your Necessities?

Also think about your necessities. If you need the power, that bill needs to be paid. If you need groceries, you want to make sure that you have the money for food. Make sure, though, that you are only spending on the things that you actually need. Keep up with the things that you need for survival, and let some of the other items slide if you have to.

Can You Change Your Due Dates?

Another option is to consider your due dates. Sometimes it’s a matter of cash flow. You need to check when your bills are due, and how it meshes with your income. Look at the way your money moves through your personal financial system and decide whether or not you can make it move through your system more smoothly. You might be able to contact those you pay and arrange to change the due date. That might make things easier in terms of making sure you pay your bills on time. In some ways, it’s about convenience and timing.

It’s best if you can meet all your obligations. However, there are cases in which you might have to let some bills slide. Order your bills by importance, and make sure that you are covered on the necessities.

(Photo: kalleboo)

{ 6 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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6 Responses to “Struggling? Which Bills You Should Pay First”

  1. I have seen people miss car payments and have their cars repoed. Secured debt should be pretty high on the list like you say. The easier to repossessions the faster you should probably pay it.

  2. Martha says:

    What about looking at the interest rate that you’ll generate if you don’t pay the bill and how much the balance is. For example 22% (typical credit card fee) on $50 is $11 vs 8% on $500 (appliance financing) is $40.

  3. Before electing not to pay any credit card debt, it’s a good idea to phone the card issuer, explain your situation, and ask to be put temporarily on a hardship program. Sometimes APRs and minimum payments will be reduced.

    For sure keeping utilities turned on is a high priority. Many utility providers have programs to help consumers get caught up over time on overdue bills, however. Also, many have to jump through time-consuming hoops before actually terminating service.

    I agree that a mortgage payment must be a high priority. But if it simply cannot be met, do some research on foreclosure laws in your state. In many cases, homeowners can live in a house for many, many months–while making no mortgage payment–before being forced out. That allows time to re-establish financial footing and lay the groundwork for a balanced budget once you do give up the home.

    If your difficulties were caused by job loss, your biggest challenge, if you live in the U.S., may well be maintaining health insurance. COBRA is typically extremely expensive, and adding a huge cost to your budget at the same time your income has been slashed is often impossible. Check out the availability of health insurance programs for the poor in your state or whether you might qualify for Medicaid.

    These are all ugly, undesirable options. But sometimes circumstances leave us with no good options.

  4. Botchster says:

    Where does tithing come in on the priority list? What about the emergency fund? It’s usually been spent and should we really pay ourselves first?

  5. Ray says:

    I think this article assumes that you can’t pay all your minimum payments and your selectively choosing what to give up.

    I would choose the following ranking, but this may differ from person to person

    Food & Water, Power/Electricity, Mortgage, Phone, Car, Other Secured Debt, and then Unsecured Debt starting from highest interest rate.

  6. Cal says:

    Been there Done that…Especially when we moved to California and our income was cut in half…

    Too bad we don’t actually HELP our own people as much as we help every other country..Or at least help them like other countries do..Actual Help not the BS they throw around

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