Extension News

Review Options for Utilities, Telephone and Cable Services When Income Drops


By Cynthia Fletcher
Family Resource Management Specialist
Iowa State University Extension

You may be able to cut some services or negotiate options for bill payment.

Utility Payments
Utility cutoffs can occur for nonpayment. Disconnection varies with weather and family health conditions. If you cannot make full payments on your utility bill:

  • Contact the company right away before the due date and before fuel is needed. 
  • Propose a new payment plan based on your current ability to pay. Take along information about your income and expenses when you go to your utility company. 
  • Explore a load management program or off-hour rate program to see if it would save you money and meet your needs.
  • Ask your utility company to conduct an energy audit for free or for a reasonable charge. An audit can identify ways for you to save money on home heating and cooling.
  • Check to see if any agencies operate a low income energy assistance program for which you might qualify. 
  • Talk with family members to decide how to safely reduce the use of your utilities to reduce costs. Health and safety considerations for family members are very important.

Telephone Bills
If you are unable to pay your phone bill on time, call the phone number listed on the bill and explain the problem. Unless you pay the bill or make other arrangements, you will receive a Notice of Disconnection with the date your phone service will stop if the bill is not paid.

If you pay the bill late, you might incur an extra charge. If your phone is disconnected, you will have to pay the bill plus interest on the unpaid balance before your phone service is restored. You may be allowed one free re-connection each year, otherwise you will have to pay the cost for re-connection.

Cut phone expenses by eliminating all non-emergency long distance calls or writing a letter instead. When making necessary long distance calls, check when rates are lowest and make your calls during those hours. If you are paying for local telephone service based on the calls you make, you can cut the cost by limiting the number and/or length of the phone calls. Consider buying rather than renting your phone, returning all rented phones except one, or changing to a less expensive type of phone service. Check your local phone bill to see if you have optional services you do not really need.

Cell phones and related service plans have become a major budget item for many families. In times of reduced income, consider dropping cell phone service plans or reduce plan costs, for example reducing the number of minutes in the plan, if additional charges will not be incurred. Or consider removing residential telephone service and relying totally on a cell phone for communication to reduce total expenses.

Cable Service
If you have cable or satellite service, have the service disconnected or choose only basic service. Remember, there usually is a charge to reconnect your service.

With careful planning, you can prioritize housing expenses.

This release is part of an article from the August 2009 issue of Acreage Living. The first part of the article covers mortgage and insurance payments plus real estate taxes.


Contacts :

Cynthia Fletcher, Human Development & Family Studies, (515) 294-8521, cynthia@iastate.edu

Lynette Spicer, Extension Communications, (515) 294-1327, lspicer@iastate.edu