What Happens If You Don’t Pay Your Utilities Bills? How Long Before They Shut Off Your Utilities?
No one wants to have to ask this question, but when money gets tight, you’ve got to know the answer. Electricity and water are essential to keeping your life going. They’re normally a top priority, but you can’t squeeze them into your budget, especially considering that many utility companies don’t accept credit cards. How long do you really have before they disconnect you?
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How Long Before They Shut Off Electricity
You typically have a couple months of missed payments before the utility company will turn off your electricity. There is no hard and fast rule on this, but you will know when the situation is dire. The power company will send you a written notice, usually a week before they intend to shut off the electricity. Furthermore, they’ll probably have to contact you the day of, or at least make an attempt to.
However, if you rely on electricity for heating, there are special regulations in place to keep it running during winter months, especially if there are minors or elderly persons in your home. This is also true for gas bills, if that’s what you rely on for heat. Look up your state’s legislation if this really becomes an issue.
How Long Before They Shut Off Water
Similarly, there is not a hard and fast rule for this either. After a few months of missed payments, the water utility will contact you with a warning, at least a week beforehand. If you want to know if your water is about to be shut off, pay attention to your mail, because your provider has to deliver a written warning! Additionally, answer their phone calls— they’re not calling to shame you, just to alert you that your water will be shut off. You need to know.
How to Prevent A Utility Shut Off
Luckily, there are things you can do besides sit and wait for the situation to get worse. Keep in mind that the longer you wait to make a payment, the more time your utility company has to report it to the credit bureaus, which will most likely ding your score pretty hard. Follow these solutions as quickly as possible.
Contact the Utility Company
Your first order of business is to contact your utility company. Have you latest statement on hand so that you can refer to your account number. Explain the situation, and work out exactly how much you currently owe. The number you have on your latest bill is probably accurate, but double check that there are no additional fees. Usually, you can get an extension just by asking for one.
Ask for a Payment Plan
This is your easiest option. Plenty of utility companies offer payment plans, and it’s better for them to receive some of the money that you owe them, even if it’s not as quickly as they’d like. You need to be honest here with how much you can actually afford. Work that out before you get on the phone.
Ask for a Grant
Turns out there is even a program to help low income families with energy costs. The LIHEAP and will help you pay your bill and keep your utilities on. It’s available in all 50 states, so just make sure that you meet the requirements, and then contact your local office.
Declaring Bankruptcy to Prevent a Utility Shut Off
If you are behind on multiple debts, bankruptcy does offer a way out. However, it is a big decision that warrants thoughtful consideration. Utility companies cannot shut off your access during your bankruptcy case.
You should only consider this an added benefit, though, not a solution to your utility problems. While access to water and electricity are essential, there are easier ways to prevent them from being shut off. Bankruptcy will drag down your credit score, which has already been hurt by your neglected utility bills. But if your situation is desperate, and you are seriously considering bankruptcy, then don’t waste additional time worrying about your utilities. They will at least stay connected for your case.
Utility bills are necessary, so they should be a priority every month. However, when several things “should be” a priority, it can be easy to let a couple slip through the cracks. Make these solutions a priority, and your services won’t get disconnected.
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Dayton is a chronic Wikipedia addict, which is detrimental to her social life but stellar for her writing. She resides in Boise, ID, surrounded by her own frantic outlines, highlighted encyclopedias, and potatoes. The latter was not by choice.
This post was updated February 28, 2019. It was originally published December 9, 2017.