First, Watch our Video "5 Steps to Better Track your Expenses"
Deciding Which Bills to Pay First
There are times when money is tight, and understanding how to deal with that stack of bills can be very challenging. Each person's situation is unique, so general guidelines can't be applied to everyone. But the following guidelines can help you decide which bills you should pay first.
1. Food, Medicine and Child Care
Paying for food, child care, and essential medicine should be your first priority. You should always be a good steward of your money and spend wisely here. Don’t overspend for food and unnecessary medicine.
If possible, keep current on your mortgage or rent payments. A home financed with a mortgage is a secured debt, and the lender expects timely and consistent payments. If you own your home, real estate taxes and insurance must be also paid. These expenses may be included in the monthly mortgage payment as part of your escrow account. Any condo fees or mobile home lot payments also should be considered a high priority. Failure to pay these obligations could lead to a lot of stress and loss of your residence.
If possible, make necessary utility payments on essential utilities such as heat, water, and electricity. Working hard to maintain your mortgage or rent payment makes little sense if you don't have heat, water or power. Carefully analyze other expenses in this category such as cell phones, house phones, Internet and cable TV. Often, those expenses are “wants” --- not “needs” --- and can be reduced or eliminated during a financial crisis.
If you need your car to get to work or for other essential transportation, rank your car payment just below food, medicine, housing and essential utilities. Stay current on your insurance payments as well. If you don't, your creditor may buy insurance for you at your expense --- and it will be more costly to you. The key here is buying a car that meets your needs and fits within your budget.
5. Child Support
Child support obligations are court-ordered payments that must be considered high priority, from both a legal and ethical standpoint. It’s the court’s responsibility to establish a payment that is fair and just for both parties, and to ensure the safety and well-being of the child. In many states, child support payments are automatically deducted from your pay check.
6. Income Taxes
You must pay federal and state income taxes that are not automatically deducted from your wages. You must file your federal and state income tax return, even if you cannot afford to pay any balance due. Failure to pay taxes on time can result in penalties and eventually wage garnishments.
7. Unsecured Debts
If you simply don’t have enough money to meet your monthly obligations, you should communicate promptly with your creditors to explain the situation and request some assistance. These accounts may include credit card bills, doctor and hospital bills, or other merchant accounts. Explain that your financial situation is preventing you from making the payments, and you are working towards a solution. You have not pledged any collateral for these loans, so you are not in jeopardy of losing property. However, these creditors do expect to be paid back. So understand that collection efforts can be persistent and stressful.
Understanding the basics of prioritization is an essential aspect of money management. Ideally, you would always have enough money to cover all of your monthly expenses and still have some left over to save. However, there may be times when you simply don’t have enough money to pay all your obligations, and that’s when you must take the emotion out of your decision making process.
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