Prioritize Your Debt – What to do With Unpaid Bills

Recently, on ABC NEWS, I talked about the fact that some parts of the country still have unemployment in the double digits while other employees are facing cutbacks in hours and salaries. More and more people are having a hard time paying their bills in these economically challenging times. If you only have a certain amount of money available and you know you won’t be able to pay all the bills, you need to know that not all bills are created equal. There are certain bills that have greater penalties than others. Today, I want to help you look at how to tackle those unpaid bills as well as grace periods and the variable consequences for not paying bills on time.
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Q. Are people still having a harder time paying their bills? I mean, we hear about new jobs being created and the recession is officially over. Why are some families susceptible to continued financial difficulty?

ELLIE: Obviously, unemployment is a big issue as well as the fact that many workers have had to accept pay cuts or work fewer hours to keep their jobs. With these come a contagion effect in that if you are unemployed or you go part time, there’s additional costs involved such as purchasing health insurance. Even if these workers find new jobs, they still have the residual effect of having less income for many months. In other cases, some may have had homes foreclosed upon and it’s cost them a lot to get established in another place of residence, plus these individuals has tanked their credit ratings—which means that rental property will require a larger down payment. A poor credit score also means these renters have to pay more down to even get basic utilities hooked up to their rental property. All these expenses start to add up and eventually, families are finding that they don’t have enough to pay all the bills.

Q. So if someone is between jobs or had some unexpected expenses such as medical bills, then what bill should they pay first?

ELLIE: When it comes to paying the bills there are always consequences for not paying. However, it’s the severity of the consequences that people need to consider when they are rank ordering which bills they should pay first, second, and so forth. The rule of thumb is to look at how fast your creditors will be likely to move against you. Which brings us to the most important bill and first bill you should always pay—your mortgage. If you fail to pay, the bank can begin foreclosure in as little as three months. Plus, this is the most significant debt you have when it comes to influencing your credit score. And with a poor credit score, the bills will just stack up even more quickly as we know that those who have bad credit have to pay more for deposits, for auto insurance some times and a poor score can even influence whether you get a new job or a job promotion at your existing place of employment. So protect your score and your financial future by paying the mortgage first.

Q. OK, so we understand that the mortgage is the most important bill, what would come second?

ELLIE: The next most important bill to pay is your car loan. Not only because you need a car to go to and from work, but also because as the second most significant loan you have, it will also impact your credit score in a more significant way than a department store charge card or a utility bill will. As for the consequences of not paying, a lender can begin repossess your vehicle if you’re a day late, but in all actuality, most will wait about sixty days. If you are serving in the military in a combat zone, there’s a little more leeway for vehicle repossession, you should contact your base’s financial office if you’re in danger of repossession while on active duty. But for the rest of us, not paying this important bill will cripple your ability to remain gainfully employed as having a vehicle is essential in most cases.
Q. So we’ve paid the mortgage and the car loan, now we pay credit cards, right?
ELLIE: Yes, that’s right. As you know, credit cards payment are very important because if you don’t pay on time, you’ll get hit with late fees. But there are more consequences than just a late fee. You might be faced with a hike in your APR if you’re tardy and then it could spread to other cards as well. You might find your average APR going from 9% on your credit cards to 24% or more in just a month. After about six months of missed payments, credit card companies start to send your account to collections and then you have an entirely new set of headaches to contend with. Concentrate on paying bank cards first such as Visa, Mastercard and American Express. You can even go to www.bankrate.com and look for lower interest rate cards that offer a promotional for transferred balances which can help your overall liability on credit cards. A final option is to go to your local credit union to see about a consolidation loan.
Q. Let’s say you have a little bit of money left, what’s one of the lower priority bills that you can tackle?


ELLIE: The next bill to concentrate on just happened yesterday—taxes. While technically, there is no “grace period” you can ask about an installment plan. The IRS can eventually garnish your wages and seize property or bank accounts. The old saying, “death and taxes are inevitable” exists, it’s because you WILL have to pay that tax bill some day—whether you’re a celebrity dishing on talk shows and making 25 million dollars a picture or whether you dish up ice cream part time at Coldstone making $25 a day!

Q. Thus far, we haven’t mentioned student loan debt, isn’t that an essential bill as well?

ELLIE: Yes, it does seem kind of crazy that student loans haven’t made it into our priority list yet, but I think that it illustrates the fact of how quickly the money goes for more “essential” bills and how there’s often more month left at the end of the paycheck Lenders for student loans will wait about nine months before placing a federal loan in default. As of last July, graduates can opt for a loan program that bases payments on up to 15% of your annual gross income. If you have these kinds of bills, then you can go to www.IBRinfo.org for help in how to pay your student loans more efficiently.

Ellie Kay
America’s Family Financial Expert (R)
www.elliekay.com

2 Comments
  1. Cathy 8 years ago

    My husband and I just consolidated our credit card bills to a lower interest credit offer. We are working on paying off the debt in 12 months. Should we close the other 5 acconts we have or would this adversly effect our credit rating? Someone said it would?

    Cathy

  2. The Bargain Shopper Lady 8 years ago

    Wow, that's great! My husband is getting his phd so we planned to be on a tight budget for a few years. This seems like a good time for a planned tight budget!
    Thanks for all your hard work helping others!

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