Here’s How To Find Help With Late Utility Bills As Energy Prices Rise

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Americans are getting crushed by inflation across the board, but one area that isn’t regularly addressed is energy prices. CPI data released Friday morning detailed that in the past year, the energy index soared 34.6%. In May alone, the energy index jumped 3.9%, natural gas rose 8% and the electricity index increased 1.3%.

Home energy prices, specifically natural gas prices, have been relatively calm over the last 10 years. But since the onset of the pandemic, prices have soared to highs not seen since 2008. And the one-two punch of Covid-related economic hardship and 40-year high inflation has left millions unable to pay their utility bill.

Below, Select dives into data behind late utility bills, plus we hear from an expert on how those late on their bills can get help.

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Americans are late on utility bills

It’s no secret that Americans are struggling to make ends meet in today’s higher cost-of-living environment, but one in five households reported they were unable to either pay their utility bill in full or at all at least one month in the last year in a recent U.S. Census Household Pulse Survey.

During the heat of the pandemic, many states put protections in place for consumers that were falling behind on their payments to not lose energy. However, as of May 1, those protections have expired — leaving millions at risk.

Mark Wolfe, the executive director of the National Energy Assistance Directors Association (NEADA), tells Select that the average American energy debt is roughly $1,000 — with some families falling even further behind. And the sum of Americans’ total utility debt was recorded at about $23 billion at the end of Feb. 2022, according to NEADA (Wolfe tells Select it’s now closer to $22 billion), adding on to the accruing debt consumers are working to pay back.

With energy affordability becoming a rising problem, many states and low-income assistance agencies are stepping in to avoid people losing their home power and air.

Resources for people late on their utility bills

Wolfe explains to Select that there is still money left over from the economic stimulus packages specifically allocated for Americans struggling to pay their utility bills.

So if you’re behind on your bills, you may qualify for assistance. He recommends taking these steps:

  • Reach out to your local NEADA contact for information on how to qualify
  • Contact your local LIHEAP (Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program) office for assistance
  • Call your utility company directly to see if you can set up a payment plan or if there are any forgiveness programs available

He adds that some states like Wisconsin are implementing programs to forgive utility debt.

You may even consider using a bill negotiation service like Billshark or BillCutterz to try cutting back your bill as much as possible. All you need to do is electronically upload your bill and give authorization for the company to negotiate on your behalf. From there, they will attempt to work with the utility company to reduce your amount owed. The services are typically paid for with a portion of the money you save from your lowered bill.

Lastly, check your credit score in case your bills are several months late. The utility company could have placed a negative remark on your credit report, which can bring down your score. If you negotiate with them, you may be able to get that negative information removed by paying back your bills or enrolling in a payment plan. You can use a free credit monitoring service like CreditWise® from Capital One or Experian free credit monitoring to keep track of your credit history and any new credit marks going forward.

CreditWise® from Capital One

Information about CreditWise has been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by the company prior to publication.

  • Cost

  • Credit bureaus monitored

  • Credit scoring model used

  • Dark web scan

  • Identity insurance

Experian Dark Web Scan + Credit Monitoring

On Experian’s secure site

  • Cost

  • Credit bureaus monitored

  • Credit scoring model used

  • Dark web scan

  • Identity insurance

Bottom line

Editorial Note: Opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the Select editorial staff’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any third party.



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