How To Avoid Paying Your Bills When You Have No Money


No, You’re Not A Deadbeat

You don’t want to avoid paying your bills. You hate that you have no money with which to pay them. You simply have no choice. You and your spouse pool your total resources, pile all the coin you own on the red bed sheet, count it by flashlight because the power bill hasn’t been paid in a coon’s age–and discover that’s really all there is, a handful of coins. These are hard times, times in which good, hardworking people who never could have believed it…are forced to believe it.

In fact, an America that once considered sci fi movies and science fiction inspired weapons closer to reality than that mythical beast, the Great Depression…well, that America has had a paradigm shift.

We know. Pam and I have been through this before, though, so we have direct personal experience from which to speak. Now we’re going through it again, and it’s time to share some of what we know. The first time, our “scraping by” period was caused not by planetwide economic meltdown but by an expensive divorce. Make that a very expensive divorce. The lessons still apply, though, and it’s time to pass on our techniques for surviving monetary disaster without having a nervous breakdown or going postal.

That last is no joke. If you have to avoid paying your bills because you have no money…and you have no money because you lost your job…things can get ugly. When I was about ten years old, my Dad’s best friends died at the business end of a .45 long Colt revolver. Murder-suicide or double suicide, no one knew, but the community did know that lack-of-money problems had to be the motivation.

So let’s get to the nitty gritty.

How To Avoid Paying Your Housing Bills If You’re Renting

In general, we humans don’t do well without money. We certainly don’t do well without shelter. For many of us, that means a house or an apartment. If you’re renting, the situation is pretty straightforward: Sooner or later you’ll have to pay up or you’ll face eviction. There are a couple of options, however.

1. Cut and run. Thousands of people do this every day, just stretch it out as long as possible until the final day of the eviction notice and then scoot. Pam and I believe in this as a viable maneuver at times. Certainly it will stain your credit rating, but if you’re reading this Hub, chances are that rating is getting acquainted with the sewer rats anyway.

However, do not lie to your landlord with a promise to pay if you know you won’t be paying. Karma is real, and making a promise you know in advance you can’t or won’t keep is a sure way to pile up a bunch of the bad kind. My preference is to load the U-Haul and vanish in the middle of the night, leaving a note on the kitchen table apologizing to the owner and stating the true facts of the situation (not all the gory details, just a couple of highlights). Then boogie and don’t look back.

2. There is no number two. In a rental situation, number one is all there is.

How To Avoid Paying Your Housing Bills If You’re Buying

If you’re packing that mortgage around like a five hundred pound gorilla on your back, take heart. Don’t get me wrong. If you’re unable to pay the monthly payment, you’re still going to lose the place–unless you’re good enough and brassy enough to try out some of the techniques for postponing foreclosure indefinitely. A few of you will be. I’m not. So here are the alternatives.

1. Quit answering the phone. This applies when you can’t pay your bills in almost any case, of course. Caller ID is a considerable blessing for call monitoring; if you’re old enough, you remember the days when you had no idea who was calling until you heard the voice at the other end of the line.

2. Replace your landline (if you still have one) with a cell phone. In other words, make it impossible for the creditor to call you. Period. They’re not your friends. At this point, they’re the enemy. Treat ’em as such. I would have devoted a paragraph to doing without a phone entirely–I’ve done it and may again–but most members of today’s civilization would go into anyphylactic shock at the mere contemplation of such a horrible concept.

3. Quit paying your house payment entirely unless you know for a fact that your financial glitch is temporary and you’ll be able to finish paying for the whole thing. If you’re done for as a homeowner–at least in that house–you need to face facts. Cut your losses. If you have the foresight to do this before you’re even late for the first time, you’ve just gained several months of room to wiggle. When you can’t go on paying your bills and you have no money, you need all the wiggle room you can get.

4. Cut off ALL communications with your lender. They will do everything possible with the carrot and the stick. That is, they will threaten, but they will also try to play Good Cop to get you to give them information. Don’t do it. With a mortgage, all they can go after is the house; that’s your collateral. But if they know you’re in trouble and get you to sign “something new”, you’re all too likely to find out the hard way that it contains a bit of fine print that gives the lender greater ability to track you, apply pressure, even steal your hard earned wages (if you still have a job).

5. Again, cut and run. Pam and I did exactly this when we left Colorado for Arizona. We do have the Colorado house listed with a true gunfighter of a Realtor, and it sounds like she may actually get it sold before foreclosure can happen. If she does, we won’t see a penny, but we’ll have eliminated a $250,000 debt. If she doesn’t, no big. In the meantime, we were able to use $8,000 in cash reserves to get a new place and get somewhat set up. If we’d failed to see the onrushing train in time, the entire Bug Out fund would have been sucked into mortgage payments and we’d have been stuck in place without so much as the money to rent a U-Haul.

...we'd have been stuck in place without so much as the money to rent a U-Haul.

…we’d have been stuck in place without so much as the money to rent a U-Haul.

How To Avoid Paying Your Bills (Car Payment)

Auto related bills deserve a complete section all by themselves. If you have no money, that’s one thing. If you have no wheels, you’re dead in the water. Can you spell homeless? Well, guess what? A fair number of our country’s homeless people do still have cars, pickups, or vans that have become their homes. That’s where they sleep, that’s what they use to go hunt for work or hunt through the dumpsters. If they lost that….no. You don’t want to think about it.

Trouble is, nobody is uglier than a car loan company. You think Susan Boyle’s face is a tad unattractive? Trust me, she’s a sexpot movie star compared to the repo man. That dude is one evil #%$!!. My wife and her ex-husband were deeply experienced in keeping the family car out of the clutches of the Legal Carjacker. By the time of this writing, so am I. Pam and I kept our 1991 Cougar away from Towaway Tom for more than eight months in 1997-1998 until I could arrange to turn the car back to the lender in a “voluntary repo” maneuver–which the opposition hated. They want to jack your Jetta; it’s a game to them. Not only that, but they went after us as soon as I called to try to work something out with the lender. That’s right, they didn’t even quite wait until we were technically in default.

The techniques:

1. Don’t park the car in the obvious spots.
Pam and her ex had their Mazda RX-7 parked in a locked garage at home with the garage windows covered so no one could peek inside. Her then-husband taught graphic arts at a high school in Bowie, Maryland. Every student knew about the Repo Man. “Mr. —-!” They would shout a warning, “A tow truck is turning into the driveway!” Away would go Pam’s ex at lightning speed, out the back to the side lot, tearing out with rubber smoking, over the grass, over the curb, get outta my way! Home to the locked garage (nobody could catch him in a road race), lock up, hook a ride back to the school while leaving Pam in charge.

When the tow truck would show up at the house, they had to deal with a crazy redhead who knew they could not legally come onto private property without permission. She’d run ’em off, not quite at gunpoint but close enough. Tongue point is plenty deadly with her.

In the case of our ’91 Cougar, we were still paying but were several months behind. They were not interested in our efforts to pay. At that time, we lived in a mobile home parked on a ranch and paid lot rent to the rancher. There was no paper trail to our place, but one day we were returning from a Sunday drive and spotted a tail. We were still forty miles from home and had no interest in leading the posse right to our hideout. So I pulled off the road and parked in front of a wire gate leading into a large pasture. The traffic flow was heavy. Our tail had to go on by unless he wanted to corner us right there. Since our move made it blazingly obvious to this guy that we’d spotted him, he decided not to take his life in his own hands and pull in behind us. Which was a sensible move on his part.

With each change of road from there to our place, we watched carefully, but he’d lost us. Or we’d lost him. However that works.

2. Arrange for a voluntary repossession. The guys after our Cougar made it tough and tried to snag the car even as I was delivering it to the agreed upon turn-it-over place. We knew they’d try that and dropped it off after hours the night before the designated appointment. Gave the repo people ulcers, no doubt. Note: In all fairness to financial institutions, I should mention that I also turned a beautiful motorcycle back to the bank a few days later. We weren’t that late on that payment, but the key difference was the lender itself. The banker understood, and I didn’t have to sneak my Suzuki Intruder back to them, just rode up to the dealership as big as day. True, it was a twenty degree January day in South Dakota, but that’s another tale.

1991 Cougar.

1991 Cougar.

How To Avoid Paying Your Miscellaneous Bills

This section includes credit card debt, overdue utility payments, and that hundred bucks you borrowed from Aunt Tillie.

1. Explain where you think it might do some good. Not with the credit card companies; all they’ll do is immediately slap you with a higher interest rate. They’re lying when they say help is available if you’ll just talk to them. What they really mean is that if you can be conned into giving them early warning, they’ll squeeze you as hard and fast as they can for every available dime before the other guy gets it. Trust me, some of these folks probably can get blood out of a turnip.

But in some cases, explaining really does help. We got a final bill in May from the Town of Parachute, Colorado. Not a lot, only $47, but we didn’t have $47. I wrote the city clerk, explaining the confusion (which did involve misinformation put out by her office–I thought I’d paid ahead and that wasn’t the way it worked). The wonderful clerk wrote back to say (a) she was sorry about the confusion, and (b) due to that plus our current situation, she had written off the entire bill. To nada. Zilch. Marvelous outcome.

2. Where explaining is useless, blow smoke. By sending a few dollars on a bill that might run into the hundreds or even thousands of dollars, I managed to stave off bankruptcy for nearly four years. In the end I did have to file (in 2001), but we gave it one helluva shot. But you don’t want to just send ’em five bucks and expect ’em to buy it. What I do, especially the first time, is send an odd amount. The most recent example: $13.50 sent to a power company who says we owe them $210 as our final bill from Colorado. That was accompanied by a full-page rant done with a pen and explaining angrily just how wrong I believed their bill to be and how frustratingly unhelpful their customer service personnel had been when I called.

They took the $13.50 and also mailed me photocopies of all of our statements for the past year as evidence that we really owed the full $210. At the very least, we got a human response; somebody had to copy those records and stuff them into an envelope. Whether or not we’ll get the bill reduced or eliminated remains to be seen, but we held off the coyotes (if not the wolves) for another month.

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