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Establish Personal Financial Priorities

When you are recovering from a personal setback, you’ll likely find yourself having to establish financial priorities so that you’ll know where to focus your effort and resources. Not all of your household debts will equally impact your family. Your first payment priorities should be all bills associated with your essential needs, including utilities, food, mortgage or rent, and insurance. While you can most likely find ways to save on all of these bills, by cutting back and negotiating lower rates, paying them is extremely important.
If you become unemployed, you may have the right to extend your medical coverage through the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA). Under COBRA, your insurance payments will likely be significantly higher than they were when you were employed, but they will be lower than similar coverage obtained on your own. Having appropriate health insurance coverage is essential because a medical emergency could devastate your finances.

The government also offers programs, such as Medicaid, for people with low incomes. Also, check with your local state government about health insurance programs.

The following is an example of how you might prioritize your financial obligations:

  • First priority debts likely include your rent or mortgage, tax liabilities, insurance premiums, auto loans, and utilities.
  • Second priority debts may include other secured loans through financial institutions, such as a car loan.
  • Third priority lenders may include retailers, hospitals, doctors, credit card issuers and other unsecured creditors.

Remember, each person will have his or her own unique list of priorities. Realize that just because a category of debt is listed as a third priority, does not mean it isn’t important. It simply means you need to contact and make payments to the higher priority creditors first. For help determining your financial priorities, you can use this simple Financial Priorities Worksheet.

After you decide what your priorities are, review your budget and determine which bills you are unable to fully pay. Then, contact your creditors to discuss your situation. Explain that you want to pay your bills but due to your setback, are unable to. In some situations, you may be able to get a new payment plan.