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7 Ways to Avoid Late Fees When You’re Broke

Late fees and penalties suck. Plain and simple. They’re a total waste of your hard earned money. At the least, extra fees are the last thing you need when you’re already struggling to pay bills. And, at worst, paying late may be affecting your credit. But how can you avoid late fees when you’re already broke?

The good news is that you can avoid late fees easily, even when you’re perpetually strapped for cash.

Past Due Notice 7 Ways to Avoid Late Fees When You're Broke The Frugal Hippie

To start…

Assess Your Situation

To get a handle on your bills, and stop paying late fees, you’ll need to get a sense of the big picture of your finances. Perhaps the easiest way to go about this is to kick it old school. On paper. Because sometimes, seeing things laid out in front of you makes it all make sense.


  • Gather your bills together.
  • Grab a calendar you have at home, or print out a blank calendar sheet.
  • Write down when your bills are due on the calendar, along with the amount.
  • Write down your pay days and the amount you earn on the calendar.
  • Adjust your payment days according to your pay dates.

This may sound simple…because it is. But, it’s easy when you’re in survival mode to forget that your bills don’t necessarily have to be paid on the due date…you may find it easier to pay some of them before they’re due.

If most of your big bills are due at the end of the month, break them up and pay some earlier. It’s easier than living between feast and famine.

Prioritizing Your Bills

Make paying bills a priority. Ugh, I know. It was never my dream to be Sheriff of Responsible Land either, but it’s so much less stressful than running from bill collectors or being stuck in the constant loop of robbing Peter to pay Paul.

And keeping your bills at the forefront of your mind when you actually have some control over them, isn’t so daunting.

So, whether it’s every pay day, or every Friday, make it a point to look over your bills & pay them once a week.

A monthly bill planner can help keep you on track.

Or, if you like tech better…

Set Up Payment Reminders

Whether it’s through the calendar app on your phone or directly through the company you owe, payment reminders can save you a lot cash.

Red string tied around finger

Be sure to set up reminders several days before your bill is due. If you often run out of money before your next pay day, set up two reminders: one on the payday before it’s due, and one a few days before the due date.

The two reminder method will help you earmark money for each bill.

Break Up Your Payments – An Easy Way to Avoid Late Fees

Make weekly payments. It’s easier to pay $20.00 a week than it is to pay $80.00 at once. Plus, the months with five weeks can actually help you get a little bit ahead. Be sure to time your payments so you don’t end up behind.

You may have to start out by making one extra quarter payment to start.

For example, if your payment is due on the 28th (a Thursday), and you get paid every Friday (the 29th), you’ll be late on that last portion of your bill. If you start off your very first month of weekly payments with a double payment (example: $40 instead of $20), you won’t get behind.

Frugal Hippie Tip: Let that small credit you accrue from extra five week month payments on your account and you’ll have a smaller bill to pay in December when you’re trying to buy Christmas presents.

Ask About Processing Times

Some companies have insanely long processing times. Don’t get caught behind because of it. They won’t modify their schedule for you…sadly, you’ll have to adjust your payment times for them.

I used to send the check out for our electric bill two weeks before the due date. And we kept getting late fees. After several late fees, I called to find out why.

The customer service rep informed me that they often took up to 14 business days to process payments via check. Seriously. That’s some inefficiency there my friends, but that’s the lumbering beast of big business.

She gave me the option of sending the check three weeks before the due date or I could…

Pay Electronically To Avoid Late Fees

Most any company these days offers the option to pay your bill with a check card either via phone, on their website, or through their app. It’s convenient and generally the money is held on your account within twenty four hours which is nice. No more waiting weeks for a check to clear.

Frugal Hippie Tip: Some companies charge extra fees depending on which method you use so be sure to ask which option is free.

Set Up Auto-Pay

Consider Auto-Pay through your bank, but make sure you have enough money in your account to cover it when it comes through. The last thing you want is more fees!

person setting up auto pay for bills on their phone

Also, ask your bank whether they send a physical check with auto-pay or if they do an electronic funds transfer.

Believe it or not, in this day and age of technology, some banks still send a physical check with auto-pay. If your bank is in the stone age, adjust your payment date accordingly.

Frugal Hippie Tip: If you’re working on paying down a credit card, set up an automatic transfer to come out with every paycheck. By doing so, you’ll never end up with overdraft fees since your payment comes out on payday, before you ever get a chance to spend it. And, you’ll never be late on a payment, which can affect your credit greatly.

Ask For Grace

There are times when you simply can’t avoid late fees; the cat had an emergency operation, your car broke down, or life threw some other unexpected event your way.

But there’s not reason that an occasional late payment should have to affect your credit for years to come.

If you’re late on a bill, call the company you owe. Don’t be shy. Ask for a courtesy. There’s no shame in it…we’ve all hit hard times. People ask all the time.

The more regular you are with on-time payments, the more likely they will be to waive a fee.

Regardless, if you don’t make it a habit to ask for fee waivers, they’ll often still give a courtesy. Ask nicely. If they say no, ask for a manager. Nicely. There’s no harm in trying.

Your Late Fees May Be Going Up

Now, more than ever, it’s important to avoid late fees on your bills because…

According to NerdWallet:

“Starting Jan. 1, 2019, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau will nudge up the permissible maximums for credit card late fees by $1, potentially making these already steep fees even harder to stomach. Under the new limits, late fees will be capped at:

  • $28 for the first time you’re late. Previously, these were capped at $27.
  • $39 for subsequent violations. Previously, these were capped at $38.”

So get organized, and save money on those dumb late fees!

Get to it. You got this.

Peace, Love & Frugal Living,


Have you found yourself in debt? Want to get out? Read our story How We Paid Off $23,000 of Debt in 3 Years.…you can too!

What to do when you're past due. 7 ways to avoid late fees when you're broke the frugal hippie
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