What to Do if You Can’t Afford to Pay Rent

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Through April 20, 2022, Experian, TransUnion and Equifax will offer all U.S. consumers free weekly credit reports through AnnualCreditReport.com to help you protect your financial health during the sudden and unprecedented hardship caused by COVID-19.

Good news for renters in a tough spot: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has extended the federal eviction ban through October 3, 2021. While this extension of federal rent relief will provide a couple more months to prepare to begin paying rent again, that may not be enough time to gather up the funds you need. If you can't afford to pay your rent, you have some options that can help you make ends meet.

Speak With Your Landlord Before You Miss a Payment

If you're struggling to pay your rent, the first step you take should be to talk with your landlord or property manager to explain the situation and ask for help. They may be willing to work with you if you have a good relationship and have been on time with rent payments in the past. And even if your relationship with your landlord is strained, it's never too late to rebuild trust by being transparent about your situation. Many property owners would rather not evict a tenant and risk a unit sitting empty, so being proactive about your situation could help you secure a workable solution.

The key here is in the timing: Make sure you contact your landlord or property manager as soon as possible so you can work out a solution together. If you wait until after you miss a payment, you could wind up making the situation worse. Communicate early and often about what's happening and your landlords or property managers might be more willing to help.

Apply for Financial Assistance

It can be alarming to find yourself in a position where you can't make ends meet, but luckily there are community and government resources to help.

Understanding what resources exist in your local community is a great way to start your search for financial help. The National Low Income Housing Coalition, for example, has a searchable database you can use to find Emergency Rental Assistance programs near you. If you're struggling to access other essentials, like food, utilities or health care, 211.org is a useful resource to explore your options.

Sometimes local nonprofits and other community programs offer short-term rent assistance and other types of grant programs too. For example, many Salvation Army and Catholic Charities USA locations offer one-time rent assistance grants. The requirements vary for these programs and organizations, but they could be worth checking.

Additionally, if you are a member of a religious congregation or other local cultural or community institution, reach out to the local leaders and explain your situation. Many places of worship and local membership organizations often set aside funds for charity (sometimes called a "benevolence fund") to help their members through tough times.

There are also numerous local and federal government programs designed to assist people when they're facing hard times. Some programs might be specific to your state or city, but many are open to residents living almost anywhere in the United States. You can visit Benefits.gov to search for programs you might be eligible for. You can also check out more affordable housing options, especially if you worry that housing costs will continue to be a challenge for you.

When you're in a serious pinch, it might be tempting to ignore other financial obligations, like student loans payments and credit card bills, but it's important to take a long-term view. If your current situation winds up negatively impacting your credit, it can become harder to secure credit in the future. One way you may be able to prevent this is to reach out to creditors before you miss any payments and let them know you're in a bind. They may be willing to work with you to push back a payment or find another solution that provides a bit of breathing room. In fact, many financial services organizations are offering debt relief programs due to the impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on many people's finances.

Move In With Family or Friends

If it winds up becoming a choice between living with a friend or family member and not having a place to live at all, chances are you'll be better off living with someone you know. Moving in with family and friends can provide a helpful safety net when you fall on hard times because it'll give you more control over your living expenses right away.

If you're struggling with rent due to a change in your employment situation, living with family or friends could also allow you a bit more time to spend on job hunting without the added pressure of searching for housing too. And perhaps the biggest benefit of moving in with family and friends is the money you'll save when splitting rent payments, utilities and other housing expenses. This will free up room in your budget and make it easier to reach your financial goals—especially if you're lucky enough to live with someone who doesn't require market rate payments for your rent (or any payments at all). No matter what type of setup you have, make sure you have a solid budget and financial plan in place to make the most of things.

Can Missing Rent Payments Affect Credit?

A missed rent payment on its own won't directly be reflected in your credit report. You could experience a credit score impact, however, if you continue to miss payments and your landlord decides to send the missed payments to collections.

A damaged credit score could create bigger challenges down the road because companies often look at your credit history to decide whether to do business with you. Your credit also impacts other things, too, like your ability to finance a car, get a mortgage, obtain utility services and find a loan.

Not only that, your landlord could add your missed payments and eviction (if it comes to that) to your rental history report, which is a document landlords may review when screening tenants who submit rental applications. Landlords prefer tenants who have a solid history of on-time rent payments, and having missed payments or worse in your rental history can make it harder to find a place.

If you take action now, no matter what happens, you'll be more likely to be prepared for changes ahead.

The Bottom Line

If you've been struggling to pay rent and are looking for a way out, don't panic. There is help available to get you back on track financially and keep your credit intact at the same time. Missing rent payments can have serious consequences that can outlast your financial predicament—so be proactive. Reach out to your landlord before missing any payments, apply for assistance from community and local agencies, move in with family or friends temporarily until things improve, or try other creative solutions like getting part-time work in addition to your full-time job. It may not seem like it now, but these solutions can help you get out of your current crisis.

If your credit is a concern, you can get a free copy of your credit report from all three consumer credit bureaus (Experian, TransUnion and Equifax) through AnnualCreditReport.com. Experian offers free access to your FICO® Score based on Experian data and a free Experian credit report.

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