What To Do When You Can’t Pay Your Bills

Wondering what to do when you can’t pay your bills can be a horrible feeling. You may feel stressed, tired, angry, along with 1,000 other emotions. Falling behind on your bills can also impact many areas of your financial life. It may lead to: Late fees Interest charges High interest rates when you need a…

Michelle Schroeder-Gardner

Last Updated: December 28, 2023

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What To Do When You Can't Pay Your Bills. Wondering what to do when you can't pay your bills can be a horrible feeling. Here are my tips so that you can get out of this slump!Wondering what to do when you can’t pay your bills can be a horrible feeling. You may feel stressed, tired, angry, along with 1,000 other emotions.

Falling behind on your bills can also impact many areas of your financial life. It may lead to:

  • Late fees
  • Interest charges
  • High interest rates when you need a loan later on
  • A damaged credit score and credit report
  • Non-stop calls from collection agencies
  • Bills piling on bills piling on bills
  • Debt

You may have fallen behind on your bills due to many different reasons. You could have recently lost your job, taken a pay cut, or had surprise expenses pop up.

Whatever your reason may be, there are steps you can take to get back on track.

Here are my tips on what to do when you can’t pay your bills.


Don’t ignore the problem.

Ignoring the problem isn’t going to help you at all. Many people get extremely stressed about being unable to pay their bills, which can lead to completely ignoring the problem in hopes that it will go away.

You have to do something.

By facing the problem, you will be able to dig yourself out of debt, get rid of late bills, and have a better grasp of your financial situation.


Try to relax when figuring out what to do when you can’t pay your bills.

You may feel very panicky if you can’t pay your bills, but remember that wasting time on worrying won’t help you at all.

Being negative, panicky, regretful, etc. leads to feeling as if you will never get out of the mess you are in. Those feelings may cause you to give up and let the bills pile up, because you can’t see a way out.

Instead, you need to take action.

Try to relax, stay positive, and focus on making changes.

Related: Why I Believe Being Positive Can Change Your Financial Situation And Your Life


Call the company.

Call the company as soon as you can. By calling them, you may be able to have late fees waived, receive a discount, and/or get more time to pay your bills.

You won’t know what they can do for you until you ask.

The worst thing that can happen is that they say no.

The best thing that can happen is they say yes and help you out!

And, yes, some companies will help you out. They aren’t all out to get you. You may want to try explaining your situation, to tell them how great of a customer you’ve been over the years, to ask what your options are, and so on.


Evaluate your income and spending.

You need to get organized so you know exactly where your money is coming from and where it is going.

This will help you spot your financial problems, and see whether working towards earning more money or cutting expenses is a better use of your time. By finding expenses to cut or areas to make more money, you will be able to put more money towards your bills and savings which can help you work through the bills you need to pay.

Related: How to Live On One Income


Cut your expenses as much as you can.

Even if it seems like there is nothing to cut from your budget, by digging deeply you can probably find a spot you can cut.

Something needs to be done so that you are no longer behind on your bills.

You may want to consider completely cutting expenses related to your:

  • Monthly car payment
  • Cable
  • Any memberships or subscriptions
  • Entertainment (there are plenty of ways to have free fun!)
  • Eating at restaurants

You may want to consider lowering or negotiating expenses related to your:

  • Car, home, or other insurance
  • Cell phone (you may even want to cut this completely)
  • Internet
  • Utility bills
  • Groceries

Related: 30 Ways To Save Money Each Month


Increase your income.

My recommendation for the best way to pay your past bills is to work on making more money. There is really no limit to the amount of money you can make. Earning more money can be a great way to get ahead a little more quickly than if you were to just cut your budget (you should still do that too, though).

To make extra money you can find a part-time job, ask for a raise or additional hours at the job you already have, start a side business, and so on.

Related: 75+ Ways To Make Extra Money


Think carefully about extreme options.

Some people put everything on their credit cards or take out payday loans when they are having a hard time paying their bills.

This can be a huge mistake. Occasionally there is a positive story about someone able to use one of these methods to their advantage, but the average person will experience a lot of money lost and increased stress.

Using a payday loan or credit cards when you fall behind on your bills can lead to digging a hole that feels nearly impossible to get out of.

I recommend analyzing the other options listed in this blog post before taking any extreme options.


Prioritize your bills.

One of the most important steps is deciding what order you should pay your bills.

You should write (or type) out all of the bills you owe, how much you owe, how late you are, and negatives that you may experience if you don’t pay a bill.

This will help you with the next action you will need to take.


Pay off your bills.

I couldn’t forget this one. Actually paying your bills is what you are working towards and what you will eventually need to do.

I recommend finding the bill that’s going to impact you the worst, then pay that one first. Then, go down the list you made prioritizing each, then pay each one off as described above. Keep paying your bills until you are done.


Prepare for the future.

You should make a plan so you don’t fall behind on your bills again.

Without a plan, there is a chance you will fall into the same habits again and again, possibly getting yourself into an even bigger financial mess.

You should:

What other tips would you give to someone who is wondering what to do when you can’t pay your bills?


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Michelle Schroeder-Gardner

Author: Michelle Schroeder-Gardner

Hey! I’m Michelle Schroeder-Gardner and I am the founder of Making Sense of Cents. I’m passionate about all things personal finance, side hustles, making extra money, and online businesses. I have been featured in major publications such as Forbes, CNBC, Time, and Business Insider. Learn more here.

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  1. Another way to cut expenses is on food. Our community has different locations throughout the month where there is a food truck and you can get a weeks worth of groceries. There are all kinds of options like this if you look. Many of them don’t require an income check or anything, so if you need help you can easily get it. Great post!

  2. Amy @ DebtGal

    Great framework! I would echo the importance of relaxing. Financially trouble can be hugely stressful, which is bad for your health, and can cloud your judgement. Try to get someone else’s thoughts on your situation, because they may have ideas, or sethings in a way that you didn’t. And, of course, remember that difficulty paying bills does not mean anything about your value or worth as a person.

  3. Staying calm and considering your options is so important (and really hard to do!). When I first started out working, I had insurance which was great. However, I also had an emergency that sent me to the emergency room for a whole battery of tests and poking and prodding. I was fine, but I couldn’t believe the balance on my bills WITH insurance. My mom calmed me down enough and said, “Call the billing department. Tell them you’re sending in “x” this month.” And it totally worked. They were more than willing to work with me, and I didn’t incur any interest or penalties of any sort. Had she not told me to pump the brakes and figure out my options, I probably would have worried my way right back to the doctor.

  4. These are great ideas. My husband has been unemployed for two months. He’s our only income. I’m not panicking because we got ourselves out of credit card debt, so we aren’t hearing from credit card companies all the time.

    I hope this list helps someone.
    Laura of Harvest Lane Cottage

    1. Thanks Laura. Good job staying positive.

  5. I think the other one would be swallowing your pride and asking family for help (if they’re in a position to do so). First, call the company and then make a game plan on how to lower expenses/increase income to pay it off. Then contact a family member with that plan and ask if you can borrow the money for at least the current bills. (This is assuming you’re behind on monthly bills rather than huge credit card debt.)

    Failing that, I’ve heard of people doing the micro-lending (Is that the name? I’m sleep deprived) where people can lend you small amounts of money toward a goal. Then you pay them back at a comparatively low interest rate.

    1. I’ve never heard of that type of lending. Sounds like a blog post for me 🙂

      1. Really? It was all the rage in the PF blogosphere for a while. I just looked it up and, yup, it’s called microlending. The most popular companies were Kiva and Prosper, as I recall.

        1. Oh! I know those. I didn’t realize people used those for bills they can’t pay, though.

          1. I know some people have at least tried to get out of debt using microloans. I don’t know exactly how successful they are, but I assume the same principle applies.

  6. I think buying less and constantly asking yourself ‘do I need this?/will I survive without this?’ is a key. Using money budgeting app may help as well.

  7. Norman

    Thanks for the article, I think there are great ideas here! Another way to save is to shop around if you have an upcoming surgery or medical procedure. Different healthcare providers will charge drastically different amounts.

  8. Call the company…Yes, do this even when you are able to pay your bills. I used to work for a telecommunications company (internet/cable/phone) so I can say for certain there are usually always available discounts to get on your entertainment bills (particularly if you have an internet only plan, i.e. cord cutters)

  9. Cash

    I think we should repay all the household debt first to be free from overloading indebtedness. Nice points. It will help.

  10. I feel very fortunate that I have never been in this situation. I have always been such a maniac about having savings and not being in debt because you never know when you might be hit in a way that devastates your finances.

    1. Same here! I can’t imagine the stress it would cause.

  11. I’ve come close to not having money to pay my bills, but fortunately always did. Those times were stressful, and I really hope to never be in that position again. I agree with the other posters about asking family for help, if they are financially able to help. Definitely better than going deeper in debt!