Advocating For Yourself With Utility Companies

Posted by Kathrina St Flavin in Opportunities & ResourcesSeptember 11, 2019(Last Updated December 30, 2022)5 min read
Key Takeaways
  • Many of us are carrying outdated money messages that don't serve us in every situation. 
  • If you are responsible for a bill, do not be afraid to ask for clarification on charges or ask more in-depth questions about how you will be billed for the service.
  • Part of advocating for your pockets is committing to a simple rule: If I am paying for it, then I should understand it.
Are you ready to make some real money moves?

Many of us are carrying outdated money messages that don't serve us in every situation. If you are a young adult, chances are you have listened to a family member or friend regarding money. Your family may have directly (or indirectly through their actions) showed you how to manage, spend, and save money.


Learning about money through family members will cause you to have certain beliefs about money. As a first-generation American, I was taught the rules of survival by many of my family members. One of the biggest teachings that I learned was "Do as you are told and don't ask questions."


At first, standing up for my pockets was extremely difficult in situations where it felt like I was breaking the rules to take care of myself. You need to know all your options so that you can make the best decision for your money. That means ignoring unhelpful messages we may have learned early on. 


Before you run out and negotiate a new loan, let's practice with some good old-fashioned baby steps. Here are three ways that you can advocate for your budget with your utility service provider: 


Change Your Bill Due Dates


If you find that you are always playing catch-up by the time your next paycheck comes, then consider taking a look at when your monthly bills hit your account. If you have all your bills coming out of one paycheck of the month, then it's going to be a hard road until you get to the next paycheck. Find balance and talk to your utility providers about moving some of your bill due dates. By changing a few bill due dates around, you can ensure that you have enough money to cover everything when you get paid. 


Ask About Resources to Help You Get Caught Up


When my clients fell behind on bills, they usually thought through a plan to get caught up. But not many of them had reached out to their utility company to talk about their options for getting caught up on a past due balance. They suffered in silence when there were tons of resources they could have used. Here are two options that you may have access to if you speak up: 


1. Emergency Utility Assistance 


Your utility provider may have application information for emergency utility assistance programs run by the Salvation Army, United Way, and local nonprofits. 


2. Utility Arrearage Program 


The utility company may have its own Arrearage Program to help you get caught up on your past-due balance. Arrearage programs allow you to pay less than what you originally owed. With these programs, you enter into an agreement to pay a set amount each month. The payment plan usually lasts a year or less. Each time you make a successful payment, the utility company forgives a percentage of your balance. Each company will have different rules for how much of the balance is forgiven each time you make a monthly payment. 


3. Budget Billing 


It’s important to ask your utility company if they have a budget billing option. Budget billing is generally a free service that will help you to avoid dramatic increases in your utility bills. Your utility company will average out the last 12 months of your billing statement and will give you a fixed number to pay every month. This allows you to budget for your utility expenses better because you will have a fixed number to pay each month moving forward.


Ask For A Breakdown of Your Charges  


Part of advocating for your pockets is committing to a simple rule: If I am paying for it, then I should understand it. If you are responsible for a bill, do not be afraid to ask for clarification on charges or ask more in-depth questions about how you will be billed for the service. Make it a habit to understand what you are paying for. When you don't understand what you are paying for, then you are more likely to get scammed or pay too much for things you don't need. 


Think about it--you work hard for your money. You had to go through an interview process to even sit in the role that you hold. Treat spending your money with the same seriousness--you can ask your service provider anything you feel is important to help you better understand what you are paying for. Be the boss of your pockets. 



woman on phone

There are some helpful tips that can assist you in feeling more confident about speaking up for yourself and your pockets. Those tips include: 


  1. Research. Before you hop on a call, research some helpful tips online regarding how people have started the negotiation process with their utility company. By reading about others’ stories you can learn from their mistakes and their winnings and apply them to your negotiations.
  2. Have your questions ready. When you are prepared for a conversion you feel more confident. Write down a list of questions that you will need to help you get the conversation started. These questions will also be a guiding tool for your conversation and will help you gain clarification.
  3. Have your bill statement ready. Your utility company can review your entire billing statement/history with the company within a matter of minutes. You want to feel prepared as they read back any charges, so it’s a must to have your bill in hand. 
  4. Have a notepad handy (or take notes on your phone). When you are on the phone with your utility company more confident, make a list of questions to get the conversation started. Always have the bill in question in front of you while you are on the call.
  5. Don’t be afraid to ask to speak to a manager. If you are asking questions to the customer service representative and they are acting rude or disinterested in your questions, then don’t be afraid to ask to speak to their manager. The company wants to keep your business and oftentimes they will go to great lengths to keep you satisfied. A manager may also be willing to work with you and negotiate better terms for your bills.


Now that you have the tools to start advocating for yourself, it’s time to put them to use. Start advocating for yourself and your pockets today!

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