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 Electric 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. 

What is LIHEAP?

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? 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 helpful 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:

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 Ways to Get Help With Electric Bills?

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 also a variety of nonprofit agencies that have funds available to help you. Some churches and food pantries have started programs to help you keep the lights on.

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

Pro tip: 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. 

If your bill is high in the summer and low in the winter (or vice versa), contact your provider and set up an “average billing” plan. They will bill you in 12 equal payments throughout the year, lowering your bills during your high-usage months and increasing them during low-usage months.

Where Can I Get Help Paying Electric Bills?

If LIHEAP doesn’t work, there are a lot of other resources available out there. Here are just a few:

How Can I Get Help Paying Electric Bills?

No one likes to be hit with a massive, unexpected bill. If that happens, don’t panic. The most important step is to contact your utility company. Ask them to re-check your usage meter. See if they can waive late payment fees, or will allow you to make a partial payment. Some offer hardship programs, and others allow payment plans. There are even free community programs to help you increase your home’s energy efficiency.

  • Apply for assistance — LIHEAP, local grants, social service help, etc.
  • Contact your city, county and state to see if they offer relief programs
  • Ask your peers for help — crowdfunding, loans from friends or family members, etc.
  • Ask your boss to get an advance on your paycheck
  • Take items to a pawn shop
  • Sell some stuff — have a yard sale, sell on eBay or Craigslist, etc. 

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.

READ MORE: 40+ ways to get help when you need money now

Can I Use a Credit Card to Pay Energy Bills?

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. 

This is because many utility companies will shut off your electricity if you don’t pay your bills, and many will charge you a hefty fee to reconnect it. In some cases, you could even be hit with a penalty for breaking your energy contract.

However, the primary problem with using your credit card to pay these bills is that you will be charged interest on those payments, and it adds up quickly. And, if you miss a credit card payment, your credit score will get dinged. However, this is a better option than trying to survive without electricity, which can be deadly.

What Happens If I Don’t Pay an 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.

Debt Collectors May Call

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. 

READ MORE: How to deal with debt collectors

How Can I Get Help With Natural Gas Bills?

Natural gas is a utility, just like electricity, and natural gas prices are soaring in many parts of the country.

Some LIHEAP programs 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 Internet Service Bills?

Wi-fi access has become a critical part of day-to-day life, but the bills can be high, particularly if you live in an area which offers limited options.

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 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. 

The Bottom Line

Everybody needs help from time to time. Don’t be afraid to speak up and ask for it. Even if you can’t get help specifically for your electric bill, there are other ways to get help and free up part of your budget to put toward energy. The programs and organizations talked about here are great places to start. 

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