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Managing Utility Payments

Utility Action Plan

Step 1: Know the Terms of Your Utility Service

State-regulated utility companies will provide a customer information packet for you. This explains the terms of service, reasons for cutting off service and ways to renew service.

You can call the public utility regulatory commission in your state to see what rights you have. For instance, in some northern states, there are “cut-off” laws that prevent a utility or other heating-energy provider from stopping service during the cold months.

Step 2: Check Into Budget Payment Plans

See if your gas or electric company has a “level payment plan” that keeps your bill the same each month. This makes it easier to plan your monthly expenses, before you get behind.

The utility company is not required by law to offer you a budget repayment plan if you are a delinquent customer. So before you get behind on the bill, discuss your plan with the customer service representative.

Utility Action Plan

  1. Know the terms of your utility source
  2. Check into budget payment plans
  3. Reduce utility use
  4. Notify the utility company before you get behind
  5. Propose a payment plan

Step 3: Reduce Utility Use

Plan conservation measures with your family. Decide how you can do it safely and still cut your costs.

Some steps you can take to conserve on energy costs:

  • Turn off lights, TV and appliances when not in use.
  • Cut back on the use of “power hogs” like hair dryers.
  • Lower the thermostat on your furnace, or turn up your air conditioner, and dress accordingly indoors.
  • Wash and dry only full loads of clothes.

Some steps you can take to cut your telephone costs:

  • Analyze your telephone service. Can you switch to a money-saving rate plan? Cancel custom features like “call waiting.”
  • Make long-distance calls in evenings and weekends when rates are lower.
  • Reduce your cell phone usage and costs—or consider eliminating your cell phone service.
  • Eliminate unpublished listings; these add to your costs.
  • Eliminate unnecessary calls if you are in a measured service area where you are charged for calls by length and time of day. The union at the phone company in your area (Communications Workers of America, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers or other union) may advise you on your best telephone options available.

Step 4: Notify the Utility Company Before You Get Behind

Call, then write, the utility company immediately, before the due date for payment. Explain the reason for your inability to pay.

If a family member relies on an electric medical appliance, be sure the power company is aware of the medical danger of a service cut-off. In general, the power company will not cut off service to a household where a cut-off would pose a life-threatening danger.

Step 5: Propose a Payment Plan

Suggest a payment plan based on your current ability to pay. If you don’t have a plan, or if your plan is not acceptable, develop one with the company.

Once a customer has filed for bankruptcy, a utility company can’t change, refuse or stop service just because the customer can’t pay the bill. However, the customer must reapply for service within 20 days after filing with the bankruptcy court, or service may be stopped.

Telephone service may be disconnected if your bill is not paid within one week of notice of delinquency. Depending on your prior record and at the discretion of the company, a payment plan may be set up where you will not have service interrupted.

To get your telephone service again once you have been disconnected, you may be required to:

  • Pay your prior bill in full,
  • Reapply for service and pay installation charges, and
  • Pay a deposit.

Energy Assistance Programs

  • Check to see whether you are eligible for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). Apply through your local community action agency, or ask your power company about help.
  • The Salvation Army and church charities provide money for utility bills in emergency situations. Local “Information and Referral” services or the United Way can refer you to the appropriate agency for utility assistance.

Alternative Energy Resources

Your county agricultural agent has free information on wood-burning stoves, solar energy, portable kerosene heaters and weatherizing your home at low cost.

You may be eligible for financial assistance to weatherize your home. Check with your local community action agency for details.

Take Action

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  • State public utility commission
  • Communications Workers of America
  • Electrical Workers
  • Community action agency
  • Salvation Army
  • County Agricultural agent

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