I opened my email and my jaw hit the floor. After nearly a year on Budget Billing, I knew our settlement month was coming up… but I never expected a bill this high! The four-digit figure that stared back was absolutely unbelievable. We owed $3,300!
Puget Sound Energy called it “the worst case of budget billing mismanagement” they’d ever seen. Since we enrolled shortly after moving into our home, they used the previous homeowner’s usage… even though we have a family of seven and the previous residents were an elderly couple. To make matters worse, the employee that enrolled us didn’t realize we are on bimonthly billing so we were only charged half that amount!
Despite the fact that PSE admitted their mistakes, we were only given three months to pay the balance. They wanted $1,100 per month – plus our usual billing amount! When I explained I couldn’t afford it, they stretched the payments out to 5 months. That was still $660 plus our normal monthly bill! Sure, these plans were better than having to somehow find $3,300 for our bill… but these payment plans just weren’t realistic.
I knew we were going to need a lot of help – fast.
The first place you should call is your local Community Action Council.
Most communities have a Community Action Agency. These organizations are responsible for coordinating the Community Action Program (CAP), which is part of the 1964 Economic Opportunity Act. Basically, these agencies help coordinate programs and benefits for low income households as part of America’s infamous War on Poverty.
Anyway, the first call I made was to our local Community Action Council. We had to wait several weeks for our appointment, but our power company agreed to freeze our account while we waited. That way, we wouldn’t be penalized for failing to pay the obscenely high bill while we waited to see if we would qualify for the pledge. During the appointment, we had to supply a lot of paperwork. We needed social security cards, birth certificates and proof of income for everyone in our household. Since we were prepared with our paperwork, it took only 30 minutes for us to receive a $1,000 pledge toward our power bill!
That reduced our outstanding balance from $3,300 to $2,300. It was still more than we could do on our own but it was great progress!
Many counties have a Veteran’s Relief fund.
The next place we visited was the county office that disburses the Veteran’s Assistance Fund. In our area, this fund provides up to $800 for veterans, service-members and their families when they face financial emergencies.
We brought our same stack of paperwork with us. It took 20 minutes to fill out the application and we received an $800 pledge toward our bill! After that, we owed just $1,500 – less than half the original balance!
We even received a pledge from CPS!
Around this same time, our neighbor made a malicious report to CPS. It was certainly stressful and we made a few critical mistakes in our first visit with CPS. It definitely wasn’t an easy or pleasant experience.
However, our caseworker asked if there was anything they could do to our help our family. I jokingly responded, “Well, the only thing we really need help with is this crazy $3,300 power bill!” To my surprise, they actually agreed to help! We received a $500 pledge from CPS.
After the pledges, the payment arrangement was manageable.
Altogether, pledges paid $2,300 toward our $3,300 power bill. We still owed $1,000 toward the balance, but we had five months to pay it off! At just $200 per month extra, this was much more manageable. It was still challenging but we were able to make it through without getting our power shut off.
Pledges and financial assistance are available almost everywhere.
We have spent years investigating power companies all over the United States. If you’re struggling with high power bills, you can click here to see how you can save money and get payment assistance in your area.