Do You Need Help Paying Your Electric Bill?

Electricity is one of those things that modern humans need to survive. It is how we stay warm in the winter, cook our food all year round, light our homes, etc. It is not an expense that you can simply or easily cut out of your budget. Unfortunately, that ever-present need hasn’t kept the bills low. In fact, the opposite is true. Energy costs are soaring.

Figuring out how to pay your steadily growing electric bill can be stressful—especially if you’re already on a tight budget or are a “low income” household! Here’s the good news: there is help there for people who need it. 

How to Get Help with Your Home Energy Bill

There are a lot of groups out there whose sole purpose is collecting funds and then distributing funds to people who need help paying their home energy bills. Some of these groups are nonprofit agencies. Others are governmental. A few are run by churches. You might be surprised at the number of organizations that want to help. 

One of the most popular (and easiest to qualify for) is LIHEAP. 

LIHEAP Can Help With Your Home Energy Bill

LIHEAP stands for Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. It is run through the Department of Health and Human Services. It offers the following types of assistance:

  • Help with heating/cooling bills
  • Emergency services 
  • Low-cost home weatherization (energy efficiency for long-term energy savings)

Unfortunately, LIHEAP funds cannot help with water or sewer bills.

Am I Eligible for LIHEAP?

Benefits.gov has a list of qualifications that most LIHEAP programs require. Every local LIHEAP office has its own eligibility requirements. If you’re interested in finding out whether you’ll qualify, you’ll need to check the guidelines for your state and your local area. 

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has an interactive map that you can use to find the contact information for your local LIHEAP office. You can find the map here. You might also be able to find information at your local library and in your city and county’s municipal offices.

If you are still receiving a paper bill from your electric company, the contact information for your state or local LIHEAP office may be listed somewhere on the bill. 

There are enrollment requirements. Generally speaking, if you or your family are members of other benefit programs, it’s highly likely that you will qualify for LIHEAP, too. Some of those benefit programs are:

  • SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps)
  • SSI (Supplemental Security Income)
  • TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, sometimes called welfare)
  • Needs-based Veterans programs.

It is important to understand that qualifying for LIHEAP does not guarantee you funds. On average only about 20% of the households that qualify for the program get benefits.

Whether or not you actually get help from LIHEAP will depend upon how much funding the program has available during that year. Once the allotted amount of money has run out, that’s it. The only way to get more funding for that year is if Congress makes those funds available. 

How Do I Apply for LIHEAP?

LIHEAP applications vary from place to place. In Oregon, for example, all LIHEAP funding is distributed by local community action groups. That means you would have to contact one of those organizations and ask them to help you apply. 

For More Information About LIHEAP

One really great resource for LIHEAP information is the NEAR project. NEAR stands for “National Energy Assistance Referral.” They will have information about where you can apply for LIHEAP in your local area. You can reach them by calling their hotline at 1-866-674-6327. 

NEAR has representatives available Monday through Friday, from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., Mountain Time. 

If you’re not a phone person, you can send an e-mail to: energy@ncat.org.

You can also call your state’s Department of Human Services and ask for information about LIHEAP there.

Finally, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has a page for LIHEAP frequently asked questions.

Are There Other Places I Can Get Help With Utility Bills if I Don’t Qualify for LIHEAP?

Many states and local municipalities have their own energy/utility assistance programs. You should contact your state’s human services department to find out what kind of assistance is available from your local government. 

There are probably also a variety of nonprofit agencies that have funds available to help you. 

Your local social services agency or a nonprofit organization may have funds to help. 

If you’re not sure where to start looking, try calling Essential Services by dialing 2-1-1. This number will connect you to someone who can help you find information on local organizations offering the help you need. 

It’s also worth calling your utility providers and asking if they have assistance programs available. Your provider may be able to set you up with a payment program, a discount, or offer other options to lower energy costs to help make your bill more affordable. 

What Other Options are Available for Low-Income Households?

If, for some reason, you strike out with LIHEAP, try not to freak out. There are a lot of other resources available out there. Here are just a few:

Sometimes, even if you can’t get funding specifically for your heating bill, you can get funding to help pay for other things, like food, childcare, etc. Getting help with these bills can free up money to pay your electric bill. Here are some resources to try:

  • Ask your utility company for help! Maybe they can waive the late payment fees. Or help you set up a payment plan. It might be helpful to visit them in person when you do this.
  • Apply for assistance — LIHEAP, local grants, social service help, etc.
  • Ask your peers for help —crowdfunding, loans from friends or family members, etc.
  • Ask your boss to get an advance on your paycheck. 
  • Sell some stuff — have a yard sale, sell on eBay or Craigslist, etc. 

Is Using My Credit Card to Pay Bills a Good Idea?

If you’ve exhausted all your other options, it is better to pay your utility bills with your credit card than to have your services turned off. 

The primary problem with using your credit card to pay these bills is that you will be charged interest on those payments. And, if you miss a payment, your credit will get dinged.

Before you resort to credit cards or shifty loans, ask your utility provider if it offers payment assistance or even budget billing. If that fails, try some of these other options instead:

  • Ask your provider for help! Maybe they can waive the late payment fees. Or help you set up a payment plan. It might be helpful to visit them in person when you do this.
  • Apply for assistance —LIHEAP, local grants, social service help, etc. 
  • Ask your peers for help —crowdfunding, loans from friends or family members, etc.
  • Ask your boss to get an advance on your paycheck. 
  • Sell some stuff — have a yard sale, sell on eBay or Craigslist, etc. 

What’s Going to Happen if I Don’t Pay My Electric Bill?

If you have paid all your other bills on time, this bill will get rolled over into your next bill and a late fee will be tacked on to what you owe. If you’ve missed multiple payments, however, not paying your bill now could be dangerous. 

  • Your service could get shut off. Then, not only do you have to pay your past-due bills to get the service restored, but you’ll also usually have to pay a restoration fee as well.
  • Depending on the amount of the balance, you could get sued in small claims court. If this happens, do not ignore a court summons. Find a lawyer to help you navigate the process. Your state’s bar association can help you find someone who will help you for an affordable rate.
  • Your account could get sold to a collection agency, which will have a serious effect on your credit.

If Your Account is Turned Over to a Collection Agency:

Before you do anything, learn about how collection agencies work. There are certain rules that collections companies must follow. Make sure you know them. You should also make the agency verify your debt and their legal ability to collect it.

Keep a record of every single contact made between the collection agency and yourself, just in case. Log phone calls, keep copies of all emails and snail mail letters they send, document everything.

If the collection agency has verified that it is legally allowed to collect this debt (and that the debt itself is legitimate), ask for a settlement. Some agencies will allow you to settle for less than you owe. If a settlement isn’t an option, ask for a payment plan. Then make sure that you make those payments on time. 

How Can I Get Help With My Natural Gas Bills?

Natural gas is a utility, just like electricity. Some LIHEAP programs will cover natural gas as well. If yours doesn’t, you can apply for aid at many of the same organizations that offer electricity assistance.

You can also call your gas company and ask them for help. Your local provider will probably know of several community resources available to people who need help paying their bills.

Some providers offer payment assistance, check to see whether budget billing is available. It might help you bridge the gap through a high-usage period.

How Can I Get Help With My Internet Service Bills?

If you need financial assistance, your first point of contact should be with your provider. They might have a program available to help you reduce your bill or make payments on balances due over time. Even the big bad corporate giants have ways of helping their customers out when it comes to their bills. 

Emergency Broadband Benefit Program

The EBB is a federally funded program that helps low-income individuals and families get broadband internet access in their homes at a discounted rate. It also helps connect families with resources for job hunting, healthcare, education, etc. 

How Can I Get Help With Housing Costs?

Shelter is one of humankind’s most basic and fundamental needs. Even so, housing is cost-prohibitive to much of the population. Most Americans live one paycheck away from eviction or foreclosure. If you need help making your rent or mortgage payments, here is some information that might be helpful:

Renters

Unfortunately, that sweet, sweet eviction moratorium that was in place during 2020 for relief during the COVID-19 pandemic has expired in most of the country. If you’re not sure what the situation is re: eviction in your city or state, contact your local housing department. They can hook you up with current information.

Thankfully, there are resources available to low-income individuals and families who might not be able to afford the rent where they live. Low-income housing often has long waitlists, so put your name on them now, just to keep your bases covered. Non-profits like Community Action and Catholic Charities can also help low-income renters keep their homes. The funds, of course, are limited, so don’t wait to send in your application!

Homeowners

Unfortunately, there are fewer programs available for mortgage payments. Still, homeowners do have a couple of options. For example, they can apply for forbearance on their mortgage payments

Homeowners might also qualify for the federal Making Home Affordable program, which can help with mortgage loan modifications or refinancing. The Hope for Homeowners program offered through the Department of Housing and Urban Development is another option to explore.

The Bottom Line

Everybody needs help from time to time. Don’t be afraid to ask for it! Whether you need help keeping the lights on, or keeping your roof over your head, there are programs out there that can help you. The programs and organizations talked about here are great places to start. 

FAQs

If I Rent or Live in Subsidized or Public Housing, Can I Receive Help From LIHEAP?

You are eligible to apply for LIHEAP even if you live in subsidized or public housing. 

I Applied for LIHEAP But Was Told That There Wasn’t Any LIHEAP Money Left. What Can I Do?

Your area probably has a bunch of other community support organizations that can help you get the aid you need. Call 2-1-1 to get more information about which programs are the best fit for your needs.

Can LIHEAP Help Me Fix my Furnace or Air Conditioner?

Maybe! Every state has different rules about LIHEAP and furnace/air conditioning repairs. Check with your local programs to find out what the rules are where you live.

What Are the Dangers of Being Unable to Heat and Cool my Home?

When the weather is mild, the dangers are minimal. During more extreme weather, though, the danger is severe. You can get very sick if you don’t properly heat or cool your home. In some cases, you might even die. Heatstroke and hypothermia are no joke!

What Kind of Help is Available With My Electric Bill if I’m on Social Security?

The same help as everybody else! If you are elderly, you might even have more options available! Try calling 2-1-1 or your electricity provider to find out which programs you qualify for.