Some Americans live paycheck to paycheck and even a relatively small unexpected expense can throw a budget into chaos. Whether your financial problem is long term due to the loss of a job, or short term due to an emergency expense like car repairs, there are public and private agencies that offer assistance with rent and utilities. You may even be able to use a little creative thinking to help yourself climb out of the hole and get that rent check turned in on time. Below, you will find a few strategies that should be used as a last resort to help you pay the rent.
Negotiate With Your Landlord
If you have been a good tenant, your landlord may be willing to adjust your rent by changing the due date or accepting a partial payment with the rest to be paid in installments. Ignoring the problem will not make it go away so the best policy is to explain your situation honestly and work to find a solution. Your landlord may be willing to lower the rent in exchange for services like lawn maintenance, snow shoveling or minor repairs to the property if your financial problem is likely to last for several months. However, be careful about this approach ? use it based on your judgment and the type of landlord you think you have. Some are friendly and understanding, willing to help you find ways to stay because finding another tenant is additional work, while others simply won?t care.
Share The Rent
If you have the space in your apartment, you may be able to take in a roommate to share the cost of rent and utilities. Before advertising for a roommate, you need to discuss the terms of your lease with your landlord and he may require that have you and the roommate sign a new lease. You should also have your roommate sign an agreement as to each person's responsibilities for at least rent and utilities. With a written agreement, you have a legally enforceable contract should any problems arise in the future. The one benefit of you being the primary leaseholder is that your roommate may not be privy to the rent you pay, thus giving you the opportunity to charge more than 50% of the rent to him/her and lower your own costs.
While it is not advisable to borrow money from family or friends, it may be the best option for a short term cash shortage. The advantages of borrowing money from someone you know is that you will probably get better terms than you would from a bank, lender, or payday loan service and you do not have to go through a formal application process so you can get the money quicker. It is still best to draw up a contract with the amount of the loan, the interest rate and repayment schedule. The downside here is if you do not pay off the loan as agreed, it will probably damage your relationship with your family and/or friend.
If your credit score is good and you are employed, you can probably take out a small personal loan from a bank. Even if there are problems with your credit, a bank may still approve a loan if you have a co-signer or collateral. ?Ways to Work? is a non-profit that offers short term loans for low income single parents. Other loan sources include peer to peer lending websites like the Lending Club and Prosper. If you are not sure you can make the monthly payments on the loan, this is not a good option since missed or late payments may be serviced by a collections agency and will damage your credit score.
Grants From Charities
There are charitable organizations that offer one time grants to help low income families cover rent and utilities or other necessities. Grants do not have to be repaid, but the amount of the grant depends on the charity's funding and your personal situation. Grants are available through the Salvation Army, Catholic Charities, Modest Needs and the Society of St. Vincent De Paul. Local charities or churches may also offer grants to help residents in need. There are online databases that list charities, like 211.org.
Short Term Government Assistance
The wheels of bureaucracy grind slowly so if your situation is dire, state assistance programs may not be of much help. You can get emergency food stamps if you qualify, usually within a week, but most states do not offer short term rental assistance. A state social services worker can advise you of local rental assistance programs and may be able to help you get in touch with a local charity that offers grants. You may have to schedule an appointment at social services agencies which can take several days to weeks.
Long Term Assistance
Long term government housing assistance is not a quick fix, since waiting periods vary between months and years. These programs also have strict requirements and in some states are only available to families with children, the elderly and the disabled. Although the programs pay part or in some cases, all of the rent for a home, there are restrictions on how the property is used and buildings must be approved by state inspectors.
Every state has a Section 8 Housing Choice Program which issues vouchers for the majority of the rent and utilities for a privately owned house, condominium or apartment. Money is paid directly to the landlord every month and the renter is responsible for the amount not covered by the program. Renters must locate a rental property with a landlord that is willing to accept Section 8 vouchers and that meets program requirements. Many states restrict Section 8 vouchers to families with minor children, persons with disabilities and the elderly.
Subsidized Private Housing is similar to the Section 8 program, but is limited to apartment complexes that get a tax break for reserving some of their units for low income housing. Rent is based on income level and applicants are required to fill out the standard rental application and pay application fees if applicable. County social services agencies usually have lists of subsidized housing in the area and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has a database of all subsidized housing complexes in the country.
Government housing complexes are owned and maintained by the state or federal government and provide low income housing with rent based on the income of individual residents. These complexes are most often in urban areas, although some may be found in suburbs with proximity to cities. Waiting lists for government housing are long, but emergency status may be granted to disabled persons who are homeless or residents of domestic violence shelters.
If you are being evicted from your home, free legal advice is available through the Legal Aid Society. In some cases, attorneys will mediate with landlords or even go to court with you. If your case goes to trial, you will have to pay court costs which can be as much as $100 depending on the individual court, but there is no fee for the attorney who volunteers his services.
Rental assistance is available for people who need help for a short or even an extended period of time. Whether through private charities, loans or government programs, most people can get at least some help paying monthly bills if they experience a financial emergency. However, the best way to avoid this situation altogether is to avoid being house poor, which means you should never buy or rent a property you simply cannot afford. In the meantime, you can learn about the best ways to save money for the future and prevent ever being late on your rent again.