Falling Behind on Your Bills? Help is Available!

By Martha Borowski, Financial Empowerment Program Manager, Britepaths and the Financial Empowerment Center at South County; Created in 2021, and updated in October 2022

Since the start of the pandemic, the staff at Britepaths and the Financial Empowerment Center at South County (FECSoCo) have been hearing from many community members who are unable to buy food, pay their utilities, rent, and other basic living necessities. If you are struggling financially or you know someone who is, below are a few action items you can take or pass along to those who may need assistance. 

Seek Food and Utility Assistance

Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia have allocated federal Coronavirus Relief Funds (CRF) for food and utility assistance for qualifying residents who have been financially impacted by the pandemic. Jurisdictions within the states have set up local relief programs. 

Here is a contact list of our surrounding counties’ relief programs:

Seek Eviction Prevention Assistance

If you are behind on your rent or still unable to pay your rent due to being financially impacted by the pandemic, it is imperative for you to take steps now to work with your landlord.

  • Keep your landlord informed of your financial situation that is preventing you from paying your full or partial rent
  • Pay what you can
  • Keep copies of checks or money orders
  • Ask your landlord for receipt of payment received
  • Keep detailed records of how much you have paid and when
  • Keep records of how much you owe in back rent
  • Seek rental financial assistance with your county and state 

For Commonwealth of Virginia Residents:

Please visit the resources for renters and the resources for homeowners to review the protections & assistance programs Virginia has put into place:

Rental assistance in surrounding Virginia counties: 

  • Fairfax County residents call 703-222-0880; Click Here for more information.
  • Arlington County residents can call 703-228-1300; Click Here for more information.
  • City of Alexandria residents can call 703-746-5700; Click Here for more information

For State of Maryland Residents:

  • Maryland’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program: Click Here to learn about and apply for emergency rental assistance
  • Prince George’s County residents: Click Here for rental assistance information

For Washington DC Residents:

Washington DC has one webpage for both rental and utility assistance: Click Here to learn about and apply for emergency assistance

When contacting any of the above for rental assistance, be prepared to provide the following information:

  • Proof of income (pay stubs, bank statements, letter from employer, social security documents, pension)
  • Valid lease or other documentation of landlord-tenant relationship

If you live outside of Virginia, Maryland or Washington DC, dial “2-1-1”. Dialing “211” will put you in touch with a referral specialist who will refer you to resources in your area that can possibly assist you in obtaining food, rental, and utility assistance.   

If you do not qualify for rental assistance, strive to create a repayment plan with your landlord
  • It is very important to set up a payment plan with your landlord as soon as possible.
  • Get the agreed upon re-payment plan in writing from your landlord.

Contact Creditors

Reach out to your lenders and credit card companies. Many banks/lenders are willing to help those who have been negatively impacted financially due to the pandemic. Many are willing to defer payments or waive late fees or penalties.

Tips to Follow When Contacting a Creditor or Lender

  • Provide your name and account number
  • State that you are unable to make the minimum or full payment on your account
  • Inform them of your financial difficulties as they relate to the pandemic
  • Explain the actions you have taken to evaluate and improve your situation 
  • State your request 
    – Ask if they offer “hardship” programs for customers having financial difficulty
    – Ask to reduce the monthly payment or defer a payment for a month or more
    – Include the date in which you plan to return to your regular monthly payments if known
    – Offer a debt settlement amount for a reduced amount owed
  • Be honest with yourself and your creditors
  • Stay calm
  • Be firm in stating what you can realistically pay and when (critically look at your budget to determine how much you are reasonably afford to send to each lender/creditor)
  • Do not accept any deal that you cannot fulfill
  • Following the conversation: 
    – Send a letter to the creditor summarizing the agreement you made
    – Keep a copy for your records
    – Stick to the agreement made and contact the creditor immediately if you cannot meet your obligations

We Can Help!

Contact the Financial Empowerment Center at South County for a free and confidential virtual meeting with a Financial Coach to assess your financial situation and options. Phone 703.704.6101, email info@FECSoCo.org or Click Here to schedule an appointment.

Britepaths and FECSoCo offer a variety of additional personal finance, job search and readiness, and small business/entrepreneur coaching, classes and workshops. Click Here to learn about all our virtual offerings.

Britepaths is the lead nonprofit partner with the United Way of the National Capital Area and Fairfax County managing the Financial Empowerment Center at South County. Our free one-on-one Financial Coaching and Financial Mentoring services are also made possible through a generous grant from Foundation for Financial Planning.

Can YOU Help?

If you are doing okay during the pandemic, please consider helping a neighbor who is struggling to stay in their home by sharing this article and by donating to Britepaths and getting involved in our work. Visit: https://britepaths.org.

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