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7 tips for paying winter heating bills

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Hit with a huge utility bill? Here's what you can do:

  • Call the company. Almost all have toll-free customer service numbers listed on the bill. Ask about assistance programs that may be available. Some companies solicit donations from customers to help families in need. Federal, state and local programs may be available for those who qualify.
  • Take a serious look at your family budget. Cut out all but essential monthly expenses. Do you really need cable? Eat out less and investigate car pooling options to save on gas.
  • Ask the utility if an alternate payment arrangement can be made to pay the bill over an extended period. Don't agree to a payment plan that you know you can't fulfill. If you agree to alternative payments, be sure to live up to your end of the deal. If you don't, you lose credibility with the utility.
  • Ask for an energy audit of your home or apartment. Utility companies often send experts to review your heating and cooling system appliances, insulation, windows and doors for energy efficiency. This may save you money on future bills.
  • Avoid getting a cash advance on your credit cards or payday loans. These types of loans carry hefty interest rates that add up quickly.
  • Borrow money from friends or relatives to help you pay the bill, but pay them back. Consider asking your church or synagogue for assistance. Many have emergency funds set aside to help members.
  • Speaking of emergency funds, work toward building a rainy day fund of your own -- enough to cover six months' living expenses.

See related stories:  "Readers respond to 2008 oil and gas outlook", "Poll: Millions will borrow to pay '08 heating bills", "Utilities offer credit card payment option," "Interactive map: U.S. utilities' credit card policies"

Published: November 19, 2007



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