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How to pay your bills if you’ve lost your job

Stay on top of your finances while you look for a new job.

There are steps to take to manage this difficult time including reaching out to debtors to help cover your bills. And if that's not enough, there may be resources available to help you until you're back on your feet.

9 steps to meeting your financial obligations

If you've recently lost your job, it's important to get in control of your financial situation before things start to go downhill. Follow these 9 steps to help keep yourself on stable footing while you hunt for your next job:

1. Apply for unemployment

If you qualify for unemployment, you should take it. Unemployment can help spare you the financial hardship of being terminated by a company should you qualify for it. You've dedicated time to this company and done your job, and it's why they pay for unemployment insurance in the first place.

2. Calculate your savings

If you have savings, now is a good time to rely on your savings accounts and potentially trade in any stocks. Think about the outgoing costs you have and how long your savings will be able to support you so that you can focus on the most important tasks first.

3. Find out if you’re waiting on any outstanding payments

If you have any overdue invoices from past clients, insurance checks that haven't shown up from a car accident or flood last year or even friends who owe you money, now's the time to collect. You should also take stock of income-generating assets such as rental properties and figure out what you expect to receive each month.

Also factor in any benefits you can expect to receive in the future. For example, if you’re covered by income protection insurance, you can expect to receive a monthly payment until you’re employed again. Credit card payment insurance will pay up to a percentage of your outstanding balance each month if you lose your job.

4. Prioritize your expenses for the next two months

Start by looking at your regular and essential costs, such as groceries and utilities, before considering your ongoing debts. When it comes to debt repayments, you can divide them into unsecured and secured loans.

For example, credit cards and personal loans are types of unsecured debt, while a mortgage or car loan is secured debt. Prioritize paying secured debts first, as creditors can reclaim assets secured to a debt if you don’t make your monthly payments. But if it’s possible, you should always aim to pay at least the minimum required on all of your debts.

5. Work out your budget

Work out a budget so you know how long you'll be able to live on your savings, outstanding payments and any income support payments you receive. Remember, this is your safety net and there's a chance that you could find employment sooner than expected. A budget can also help you cut unnecessary spending by showing you where the majority of your money goes.

6. Limit your spending

Using your budget, identify which expenses are your “needs” and “wants.” The expenses in your “wants” list can be cut to free up extra cash while you’re looking for more work. Gym memberships and subscription services like Netflix are examples of “wants” and can be canceled or suspended while you’re looking for work. If necessary, you can pay your bills with a credit card to help float your finances.

7. Contact your providers

Reach out to your creditors and service providers and let them know that your employment circumstances have changed. They will most likely offer you a range of options based on your individual situation, such as a payment extension, an extension of the loan term so you have smaller repayments, or a temporary hold on your repayments. You're much more likely to get a positive response if you're proactive and ask for help before the debt goes into default.

8. Continue seeking employment

This could include contacting colleagues and friends to see if they know of any appropriate opportunities you could apply for, updating your resume and connecting with people on services such as LinkedIn. There are also employment agencies and placement services that could help you find secure or temporary employment.

You may also want to get the money coming in again by picking up odd jobs whatever you have to do to avoid paying bills late and damaging your credit file. Online work is more accessible than ever, and freelance work platforms such as Upwork, Freelancer.com and TaskRabbit are handy when you’re looking to make a couple of extra dollars.

9. Explore debt relief

Debt relief is often used as a last resort because the implications can have negative long term effects on your credit score. Forms of debt relief include bankruptcy, debt settlement, and debt management. The main goal of debt relief is to drastically reduce the amount you owe your creditors, or in some cases, such as filing for bankruptcy, wipe the slate completely.

If you're interested in exploring debt relief options further, make sure to do your own research first before committing to something that may not be right for you.

Compare debt relief companies

Explore your options by costs and requirements, or select the Go to site button for more information about a particular service.

Name Product Costs Requirements
Accredited Debt Relief
Accredited Debt Relief
Charges and fees vary by the company you're ultimately connected with
Must be at least 18 years old and a legal US resident; additional terms may apply based on services and products used.
This A+ BBB-rated service offers free consultations to lower your monthly payments help you get out of debt faster.
National Debt Relief
National Debt Relief
15–25% of total enrolled debt
Must have a legitimate financial hardship which is preventing the ability to pay creditors and a minimum of $7,500 in debt.
Get back on your feet with a top-rated company that works with multiple types of debt.
Freedom Debt Relief
Freedom Debt Relief
Monthly payment based on enrolled debt, no upfront fees
Must have at least $7,500 in unsecured debt, have a hardship is preventing the ability to pay creditors, and live in a serviced state.
Freedom Debt Relief works to help people with unmanageable, unsecured debt get back on their feet.
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Compare up to 4 providers

Before you sign up with a debt relief company

Debt relief companies typically charge a percentage of a customer’s debt or a monthly program fee for their services. And not all companies are transparent about these costs or drawbacks that can negatively affect your credit score. Depending on the company you work with, you might pay other fees for third-party settlement services or setting up new accounts, which can leave you in a worse situation than when you signed up.

Consider alternatives before signing up with a debt relief company:

  • Payment extensions. Companies you owe may be willing to extend your payment due date or put you on a longer payment plan if you ask.
  • Nonprofit credit counseling. Look for free debt-management help from nonprofit organizations like the National Foundation for Credit Counseling.
  • Debt settlement. If you can manage to pay a portion of the bill, offer the collection agency a one-time payment as a settlement. Collection agencies are often willing to accept a lower payment on your debt to close the account.

Do I qualify for unemployment?

Requirements for unemployment benefits can vary by state, but if you were transitioned for reasons outside of your control there is a high chance that you qualify for unemployment benefits. The first step in finding out if you meet this criteria is to apply. Unfortunately, many people never reach this step because of preconceived notions regarding their eligibility and feelings about taking money from the government.

How to apply for unemployment

  1. Get in touch your state's unemployment insurance program either online or by phone.
  2. Follow the instructions you're given to file a claim, and submit your application.
  3. Wait for the Department of Labor to evaluate your claim and approve it.
  4. Start receiving benefit payments.

Other options to consider

Consider the following options if you've lost your job and money's tight:

  • Debt consolidation. Consolidate your debts into one monthly payment. A debt consolidation loan or balance transfer credit card can save you money by giving you a lower interest rate. Some lenders accept unemployed applicants.
  • Early access to your retirement plan. Many retirement plans will allow you to withdraw money early if you're experiencing a financial hardship. If you've been paying into a 401(k) or IRA, look into what your options for withdrawing early are.
  • Emergency help services. Charity and community organizations can provide emergency financial assistance if you spent all of your money paying your bills and don't have enough for food or other essential costs. You may also be eligible for government assistance. Contact your local social or human services department.
  • Short-term loan. If you need help paying for everyday expenses while you job hunt, some lenders offer short-term loans to people who are unemployed. Keep in mind that these loans are likely to have high interest rates and should be a last resort.

Should I use my credit card to pay bills when I’ve lost my job?

Avoid using your credit card to pay your bills. Creating new debt to pay an older debt is a slippery slope to financial ruin. Instead, work out a plan with your provider or contact a nonprofit financial adviser to discuss your situation and get specific advice on how to manage your financial commitments.

The exception to this rule is a balance transfer credit card. If you already have debt on several credit cards, a balance transfer card with a 0% introductory rate can help you avoid accruing interest on your current cards while you get back on your feet. This is only a good option if you feel confident that you'll be able to repay the balance before the introductory period is up.

Bottom line

If you've recently lost your job, spend some time taking stock of your situation and planning your next moves so that you can stay in control of the situation. And if you're having trouble staying on top of your debt while you're looking for a job, consider enrolling in a debt relief plan to help.

Frequently asked questions

Will debt consolidation help me pay my bills?

Possibly. Some people can save money on interest and cut down how much they’re paying over the life of their current debts, how much they pay each month or both. However, that’s not the situation for everyone. Your best bet is to do some research on what debt consolidation loans you could qualify for, work out what you’d have to pay each month and over the term of the loan and then decide if it’s the right financial decision for you.

Do I qualify for unemployment if I was fired or quit?

There are circumstances in which you may still qualify if you were fired or quit. These vary from state to state, however, so it’s important to contact your local social services for more information before assuming you don’t qualify.

The stress of unemployment is getting to me. Where can I get help?

If you’re having a mental health crisis and need immediate help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

If you’re not currently in a crisis but you need access to mental health resources, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration helpline at 1-800-662-4257 for 24/7 information and treatment referral. They can help connect you with mental health providers in your area.

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