Deep, Dark Hole - No Hope in Sight

We have a serious issue I’m hoping for some help with.

We are seriously delinquent on our electric bill. I’ve asked them for help but their only help is for us to pay $1500+ to get back on a payment plan, which isn’t feasible with our current financial situation.

I’ve contacted Social Services and was denied based on my income. I contacted our local 211 number and was given a couple of options (Catholic Charities, Salvation Army, etc) which I’m following up with but fear that I’ll have the same issue. I make a decent wage but have significant bills that don’t allow me to save enough.

I’ve tried to apply for a personal loan but my credit is poor enough that I’ve been denied for every one I’ve applied for, online and at my local bank.

We have a mortgage but our balance is so high, we don’t have any equity to borrow against.

I’m working 40+ hours and going to school at night. My wife has serious medical issues and can’t work.

Anyone with any thoughts or who has gone through this, I’d love to hear from you.


Worst case scenario - and I do mean worst case - see if you can pay it on your credit card. While I don’t advocate bankruptcy, you might be able to balance transfer to a zero interest card for a year after charging it.

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Contact the New York Times Neediest Cases Fund. They sometimes profile others in your situation and might be able to give you some direction. If they can’t help you, can you borrow against your 401k or ask your employer to take out a loan that you pay back $100 out of every paycheck going forward.

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Try calling your neighborhood church. They do not require you to be a member to help.


Have you tried social security disability benefits for your wife? The only other option that I would do is rearrange what gets paid. For instance, pay some of every bill while adding more to electric. Get rid of anything unnecessary. Eat as cheap but still healthy as possible. Some people disagree, but I say sell as much as possible once you figure out what is needed to catch up band have a plan. In the meantime call up everyone and ask for help. It may not be money help. But a hot plate or a little side job for extra cash can help when you do find the time. Something like picking up groceries for someone.


Can you take in a roommate? After my bro in law and sister in law divorced, the only way she could make it was by renting a room to an elderly lady. The lady was clean, quiet and sweet. It was good for her as well because she was no longer alone and was able to live off her fixed income. // As your wife has serious health issues have you considered disability for her? // There are free credit counseling agencies (ones you don’t pay for.) They may be able to help you with a plan and negotiate with your providers. They have more clout than an individual in negotiating. // If you can get a hold of Donna Freedman’s “Your Playbook for Tough Times” that would be good. She is a black belt expert in frugality. // I’m sure you cut back in every area you can think of. Some less conventional ideas are in The Tightwad Gazette. It may be out of print but is the kind of book available at the library or through interlibrary loan.

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Good ideas so far. Small issues with some.

Credit Card - I have to pay over $1500 to bring our electric current and don’t have any credit cards that could come close to that amount. The few I do have are very close to their limits. Plus, my electric company will only let me pay from a bank account, for some reason.

401K - My company will not let me borrow against my 401K

Social Security - My wife does not have enough work credits for regular social security and has been deemed that her medical issues do not warrant approval for disability insurance.

Get rid of anything unnecessary - We’ve been trying that. We’re trying to sell anything we can but getting $5-$10 here and there won’t get us to our total quick enough.

Side Job - I’ve done what I can but working 45+ hours at my regular job doesn’t leave much time for me. I also just started college (at 45+ years old) to get a better job in the future so that takes a significant amount of time as well.

Again, I appreciate your ideas and am continuing to try those things as well as others.

Additional ideas are welcome too.

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I’m not sure how much of this will help, but when we’ve been in tight spots, everything is on the table. Do you have a budget? Have you looked at where your money is going and if any category can be tightened up? What kind of monthly shortfall do you have? What did you charge on your cards? Could that situation happen again? Can you freeze your cards and go cash only for a time? That interest is a killer (18-20%?) and is probably the biggest drain on your cash flow. // How much longer do you have before finishing school? Are you paying for it out of pocket or are you getting scholarship aid? Can your classes be spread out so your current costs are lowered as you pursue your education? Can you self study and test out of some of your classes towards your degree? Or can some of your previous life or work experience be considered for credit? // Would it make sense to pause school and take on extra work to pay down debt until you’ve cleared that up, then continue? Could you talk to your Dean of Students or Financial Aid office about your options? // Are you in a location where you can you go without a personal car? Not just public transportation. We crunched numbers once and found a cheap car rental was actually about the same as car ownership for out of pocket expenses in a normal job situation. (Car payments. insurance, repairs and upkeep, gas) It might be less for you. Can you car pool? Car share?//Your housing is set. It could be used as an asset. If you don’t want a permanent boarder, how about renting to a student for a term or doing AIRBNB? // Would it pay to sell your home and rent something modest in stead? // Food may not be a huge leak in your budget but it has some of the widest options. Food pantries, freecycle, gleaning networks, discount grocers, cooking from scratch, some vegetarian meals, a little garden out back. Unlike food stamps, these don’t require low income to qualify and you could easily save $25 a week or more. $100 a month. // You’ve probably already cut out things like subscriptions and cable, gone with a cheaper phone service if you can, like Republic wireless. Stopped impulse purchases. made do. // Your situation is not hopeless. But may take plodding to go through.


More good questions:

College - I receive full financial aid, mostly because I’m going to a 2 year community college, to start.

I am trying to test out of as many as I can but have to pay almost $200 per credit hour out of pocket to test out.

I just started my first semester last month.

Boarder - unfortunately both of my over 18 sons live at home so we don’t have room

Personal car - unfortunately we live in the country so that’s not an option

Cars are fully paid off with only insurance and such but they’re old so our maintenance costs are outrageous. I try to do all the work I can but we just had to have a wheel bearing replaced on one and it was almost $600.

Health insurance is another huge issue - my wife and sons have “public” insurance through the NY State of health which costs $20 per month and has limited co-pays but, again based on my income, I had to get insurance through my employer. While the weekly cost isn’t outrageous, it’s still more per month than the three of them. Also, I have a $1500 amount I have to pay out of pocket before they will even start helping with co-pays. Because of that, I have over $1000 in medical bills I haven’t even attempted to start paying. I’ve asked for assistance to reduce those but again, have been denied for making too much.

Society seems to want to be all helpful when you’re considered poor but once you hit a certain level, they say “screw you, you make too much for help”. It’s really frustrating.

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Do your sons have jobs? You could all sell your blood to a blood bank with the exception of your wife.

Stop paying to test out… if you’re on a full ride, anyway, that extra expense is NOT a priority at this point. Actually, you might want to just put college on hold and use those hours devoted to it to get a PT job so you can start climbing out of the gigantic debt hole. You just started so not like you’re even remotely close to graduating, anyway, and you imply that you’re only doing this with the hope of getting a better job, not that it’s required to keep the one you have.

Can you downsize your house if the mortgage is getting to be too much?

And as someone else asked, are your boys working? If so, they should be contributing to the household expenses. If they’re not working, WHY??

Is your wife capable of working from home? There are so many WFH jobs she could potentially do to help… why, the Penny Hoarder kind of specializes in showcasing just such jobs!

I’m surprised the electric company isn’t willing to work with you… if they want $1500 just to get you to a payment plan, how much in arrears are you? I’d try talking to somebody in charge, if you already haven’t, and not just an agent on the phone who probably doesn’t have decision-making authority. It sounds odd that they are refusing any kind of payment.

Hope you soon see some light at the end of that long, long tunnel you’re in.


Both of my sons are trying to find jobs but nothing yet. My oldest just graduated from college so he’s actively working to get one. My youngest broke his foot last year and is still having issues with that. He can’t put significant weight on it and is going to PT.

We don’t have anyone who will pay for blood locally. We only have Red Cross and they don’t pay.

I’ve pretty much “given up” on the test out option because of the cost out of pocket. It’s taken me 30 years to actually enroll in college so I’m afraid if I don’t keep with it, I won’t go back. Plus, I hate my job but it pays well. I want to get away from it but don’t have any clear options for other jobs so getting a degree in a field that is growing is my best option.

We are about $3500 behind on electric, they want the $1500+ just to put us on a payment plan.

My wife doesn’t have a degree and we’ve tried to find her work from home jobs but she hasn’t had any luck.

As far as the electric company goes, I agree. They’ve been very much less than helpful at every step of this issue. They won’t even give us a shut off notice so we could go to Social Services or others to get emergency help. They’re not saying they won’t take any payment, just that to stop the “we can shut you off at any time” garbage, we have to pay the full amount.

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I have to be honest, you seem very focused on the ‘no’s’ and need to accept that there is some pain involved. I have no idea how much you make, but there has to be something to cut or some new way to bring in income. Both your boys are over 18, are they contributing financially at all? I mean, even $200 a month from each would make a difference for a few months. Since your wife is disabled, can’t you sell one of the cars and put that toward the bills for a few months? Have you called your cc companies and told them you are in a bind and that you need to lower your payments for a few months? Have you gotten your car insurance changed to liability only? There has to be something, from not buying lunch to pasta and butter one night a week.

Are your adult sons aware of the situation?What ideas do they have?

I am sure you are a nice person, but you don’t seem to want to take a step back here. Step back and look at the big picture. You have two sons, are either working and contributing to the household? At 17 I worked full time (I know, different era) but even when I worked part time I had to give some money to my mother. If you have 2 cars, see if you can lower the insurance with just liability insurance? Can you sell one and have your wife use Uber? Instead of refinancing, can you take out a home equity line of credit? Can your boys bunk up and you take in a boarder? Can you drive a taxi at night or have the boys wait tables or whatever for just a few months?

One thing you can do is call the electric company and tell them about your very sick wife and if you have life-saving medical equipment in the house, they may not turn off the power. If you have high credit card bills, call them and ask them if you can skip two months so you can pay this bill. Many credit cards will take a less than minimum payment, for fear you will file bankruptcy and they won’t get any money.

I think you sound like you convinced yourself that you can’t do this.

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I agree with asking Catholic Charities or a local church for help. Also, here in Florida we have United Way which offers help - I’ve no idea if there are income restrictions or not. For us it’s a matter of calling 211 - I’m not sure what it is in NY. You may also want to take a look at for side hustle ideas. Also, is your wife well enough to do some work from home? If so, you may want to check out www.ratracerebellion or for some ideas. I’d definitely check with United Way though if you haven’t already.

I’m actively doing what I can to cut out expenses and “stuff”. I’m posting the negatives because those are the things I’m trying to get people’s feedback on. I’m not giving up or just saying I can’t do it, I’m just looking for help. I also started working when I was young (15) and have worked pretty much since. I’ve tried to instill my work ethic with my sons as well.

Both of my sons do know what is going on and are concerned. My oldest just graduated from college in May and hasn’t found a job yet. My youngest broke his foot and is still laid up and unable to work. His medical bills are part of our issue, although I have worked with the hospitals to get us a reduced fee. My youngest has applied to a bunch of work at home jobs but nothing has come through yet.

We don’t want to get rid of the cars because, if both boys start working soon, we’ll need all three and can’t afford to buy one when the time comes.

I’m waiting for a response to my application with Catholic Charities before I move on to United Way. 211 is the number locally here and that’s where I got the numbers/info for CC and UW.

All of our cars are liability only, except for the one that we have a lien against and they require collision. We have the lowest insurance rate I’ve been able to find for cars from any company.

We have no equity in our house so that’s not an option. Refinancing isn’t really an option either because I’ve looked into it and we’ve currently got a great monthly payment and interest rate.

We have contacted our doctor and asked them to send letters to the electric company because my son and I use a CPAP but we have to do a new one every month, and it’s not really a “lifesaving” medical device, although I wouldn’t want to go without it. Our doctor has been very helpful in that.

The company I work for is a food manufacturer and I have access to “free” samples. That is all I have for lunch on a daily basis. I don’t pay for lunch or anything. I eat PB&J almost every morning. We have pasta at least 3 nights a week, and break it up only so we don’t get sick from not having protein or vegetables.

Again, not trying to be negative, just looking for ideas or thoughts from people who might have been in this situation. I’m also not trying to get beat down by asking for help here.

Your sons may want to get some help from the state.

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An elderly friend once confided in me about difficult times her family went through and how they thought they wouldn’t make it. She said, “We’re still here.” I wrote that on the white board on the fridge as a reminder, and pass it onto you. It’s great your sons are on board and you’re facing this as a family. That shows maturity on their part. Our youngest once said, “It’s good we were poor, it taught us to be more creative.” There are character traits only developed from adversity, even though it is painful at the time. Resiliency and understanding are two of them. Your sons are becoming better men.


How much do you pay towards your CC’s each month? It is not ideal, but depending on the amount - you could skip paying them in order to keep your electricity on.

I mean, it is the 4 walls. If you can’t have a necessary utility on in your home, you don’t have the money to pay towards CC debt. Sad to say, but true.

Of course, that is going to create its own mess that you will have to figure out.

But seriously, how did you let your electric bill get past due by over $3k? That takes quite a while to add up.