Ask the Bitches Pandemic Lightning Round: “What Do I Do if I Can’t Pay My Bills?”

Welcome to the Ask the Bitches Pandemic Lightning Round! We’re working around the clock to answer your questions about coronavirus, the impact of quarantine, and the recession of 2020.

Today, we’re talking about what to do in the event that you can’t pay bills due to disruptions in your workplace.

We’ll be coming at you fast this week, answering as many urgent questions as we can. If you appreciate the extra effort, we would love a small donation on our Patreon. Thank you!

The question

“My business already suspended travel and they’re talking about closing and having people work from home now that our schools are closing and there’s a confirmed case in our city. Problem is, I’m one of the lab techs. I can’t work from home and I can’t pay bills at the moment if I don’t get my paychecks. What advice do you have for those of us who will lose money? I read some articles and they basically said call your landlord to ask ‘Pretty please,’ which won’t work for my ruthless landlord.”

This is definitely the most sobering question of the pandemic. It’s also the one most easily answered, which warms my withered heart like a raisin in the sun.

The answer

This is why we won’t shut up about emergency funds

Returning readers know we are horny for financial stability and wet for emergency funds.

Sometimes the economy is strong, unemployment is low, your health is good, you have a job you don’t hate… Life may not feel like this Ethel Merman song, but it’s at least like this Ethel Merman song. During these times, an emergency fund may feel like a less urgent necessity.

Can't pay bills? That's kinda what your emergency fund is for.

But other times—during, say, a pandemic—you see with perfect clarity why they’re so damn important.

For readers still getting paychecks, make a robust emergency fund your top priority. Delay all unnecessary spending, too. You can’t really have too much cash on hand right now.

Read these articles to learn how to build an emergency fund:

Get credit

Debt ain’t great. But it sure beats hunger and homelessness.

Some folks see credit cards as symbols of reckless spending and potential ruin. Some of those people may have been your parents; they may have made you afraid of these tools. But a line of credit is an excellent tool to have in your tool kit. I’d compare it to a chainsaw: it’s good to be a little afraid of them. You should be! But they’re good to have access to anyway. When you need to chop down a tree, you’ll be fucked if you only have a Phillips head screwdriver.

If you have credit cards, call today and request a limit increase. (Here’s a script for that.) If you don’t have credit cards, get one now. (Here’s a walkthrough for that.) The federal government is working hard to keep lines of credit from freezing up, as they did during 2008. Don’t wait to figure out if it’s working. Get ahead of the stampede.

Never had a credit card? Start here:

Unsure of how to use credit cards strategically?

Help is coming—and more is arriving all the time

Obviously it’s good to be prepared in general. But no level of individual preparedness could take the suck-ass out of the situation when you can’t pay bills.

Which is why we need the cavalry.

City and state governments all over the country are currently taking measures to help those who have lost their income (or will) during the pandemic. Some have placed moratoriums on evictions, or drastically limited the requirements for unemployment insurance. Individual industries are gathering together to raise relief funds for their most vulnerable associates.

Private mortgage companies and lenders are also stepping in to waive late fees, or work with individual customers to delay payment without penalties. Check your mail and email from your financial institutions and local governments for these announcements.

On the federal level, the House of Representatives just passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, and it’s expected to pass the Senate as well. The bill covers paid sick leave, food assistance, and free medical testing for COVID-19. The IRS postponed Federal taxes until July. That’s a huge win for our readers who freelance.

All of which is to say: many elected officials and private businesses are stepping the fuck up and taking this shit seriously. And the illustrious Jake of I Heart Budgets is constantly updating a list of financial resources for those suffering who can’t pay bills during the crisis. You should bookmark it and check it out daily:


It’s got student loan interest relief! Mortgage relief! Unemployment claims! Tax relief! Help with utilities! Plus helpful links to articles about how to make ends meet in a crisis.

Ruthlessness is unsustainable

This question-asker said that calling their landlord won’t work.

Try it anyway.

Odds are very good that your landlord couldn’t possibly fill your apartment quickly. Few people are looking to make a move during this time; even fewer have first, last, and security deposit ready to go. And you will not be the only tenant failing to make rent. Lots of people can’t pay bills right now.

Small mercy: we’re not in this alone. The landlord who was ruthless and cold in March may change his tune by April. The scope and reality of the crisis takes time to set in. Social pressure is working in your favor. Remember what happened to the dudes who tried to hoard hand sanitizer? A literal mob showed up at their house. “Greed is good” is officially dead.

There’s a reason that major institutions are reacting with quick generosity to this crisis. They remember the Great Recession, and how damaging it was in the long term. Many realized it’s wiser to take a smaller short-term hit than squat on their gold and pretend nothing’s changed.

(Huh. Guess it’s just a Tolkeinverse kinda day.)

You gotta call and ask. Do it for every bill you’re struggling to pay. If you make ten calls and even one lets you off the hook, it’ll have been worth it.

We hope that private financial institutions and state and local governments will catch up to the compassion train and start instituting similar emergency measures. And if they don’t, we hope they step on a lego every morning for the rest of their natural lives.

If you’re jobless, anxious, or stuck at home, contacting your government representatives to urge immediate action ain’t a bad use of your time.

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