There are many ways to lower your expenses. Most companies have programs to help customers experiencing economic hardship. You may be able to negotiate with your creditors to lower what you owe. Tell your creditors and other companies to whom you owe money if you are experiencing an economic hardship.

Couple talking with loan officer

TIP! Prioritize Essential Expenses First

Pay for essential needs before anything else. Essentials include shelter (mortgage or rent), food, and utilities. Before an unpaid bill can be reported to the credit bureaus, which would harm your credit score, it must be at least 30 days late. A single late payment fee before a bill is 30 days late is preferable to a high-cost loan, which will cost you much more in fees. If you are uncertain about which option might be preferable, you can always call Capital Good Fund’s financial coaching hotline at 866-584-3651.


Homeowners: The Illinois Homeowner Assistance Fund (ILHAF) provides up to $60,000 in mortgage assistance to eligible homeowners and has re-opened for another round of applications. We recommend that interested applicants watch an informational webinar to learn more about the process and requirements. Visit illinoishousinghelp.org/ilhaf to watch the webinars, find more information, and submit an application.

If you are struggling financially, you may qualify for a mortgage forbearance, which allows you to postpone paying your mortgage. The easiest way to obtain a mortgage forbearance is to apply on your mortgage servicer’s website or call them directly.

If you have a complicated situation, are encountering obstacles, and/or prefer to speak to a live person, use this online search tool to find a housing counselor or call 800-569-4287 (multilingual assistance available). If you’re facing foreclosure, call 888-995-HOPE (4673) to be connected to free, comprehensive, foreclosure assistance 24/7.

Renters: Rental assistance can take a lot of pressure off your overall finances. Consider these resources for rental assistance options and applications:

  • Housing Action Illinois
  • Rentervention.com focuses on Chicago residents but can assist any Illinois resident.
  • The Illinois Court-Based Rental Assistance Program (CBRAP) offers funding to Illinois tenants with pending cases in eviction court. Click here to view eligibility requirements and apply.

If you’re being threatened with eviction, visit EvictionHelpIllinois.org for free legal assistance. If you’re worried about eviction, you can find free legal help, rental assistance programs, and other resources at Chicago.gov/eviction (for Chicago residents) and Cook County Legal Aid (for Cook County residents).

Housing Counseling: Housing counselors provide guidance on buying a home, renting, loan defaults, foreclosures, and credit issues. Many housing counseling organizations offer financial wellness education at no cost to the participant. Some reputable organizations in Chicago that provide housing counseling are:

2-1-1: You can also try Chicago’s 2-1-1 hotline to be connected with housing assistance.

Car Payment

Options for assistance during an economic hardship may include changing the due date of your payments, creating a new repayment plan to lower your monthly payment, or deferring (postponing) your payments. Contact your lender for more information.

Utilities & Internet

Utilities: All major Illinois utility providers have their own bill assistance programs including ComEd, Peoples Gas, North Shore Gas, Nicor, and Ameren. Contact your provider to access funds and policies set aside for financial support.

If you are lower income, contact both your utility provider and the following state utility assistance programs:

For more information, call Chicago’s 2-1-1 hotline for housing or utility bill assistance in the Chicago and Cook County area.

Internet: The federal government’s Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) can help low-income households pay their monthly internet bill. Eligible households can get up to a $30-per-month discount on their internet bill.

Visit ACPBenefit.org to find out if you’re eligible, submit an application and choose an internet service provider. If you need to talk to someone about eligibility or your application status, call the ACP Support Center at 877-384- 2575.

Eligible Illinois residents can access low-cost internet, affordable refurbished computers, and digital education training through the nonprofit PCs for People. PCs for People is a participant in the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) mentioned above, which reduces the price of monthly internet service to $0 and significantly discounts computers for eligible residents. To learn more and shop, please visit www.pcsforpeople.org.

Student Loans

On June 30th, 2023, the Supreme Court overturned the Biden administration’s one-time student loan forgiveness program. The COVID-related student loan pause is set to end on August 31, 2023. Interest begins accruing on September 1, 2023, and payments will be due beginning October 2023.

To prepare, login to your Federal Student Aid account, update your contact info, lookout for mail or email from your student loan servicer, and start to set aside money now to cover this monthly expense. You should also look into all your options for repayment as a variety of payment plans and even potential forgiveness programs are available to relieve borrowers. Your monthly payment could range from $0 to a few hundred dollars per month or more, depending on a number of factors, such as your repayment plan, annual income, and the size and types of your loans. You can use the Federal Student Aid website’s Loan Simulator to find out your best repayment options relative to your personal situation and your primary repayment goal, and to get a sense of what your monthly payment might be. Note that the Simulator is only a simulation. Only your loan servicer can determine your exact monthly payment.

Fortunately, the Supreme Court did not rule against the Biden Administration’s reforms to income-driven repayment (IDR) plans, which are plans that make repayment more affordable by pegging your monthly loan payment to your income. A variety of these plans exist and borrowers should review all their options to figure out which best fits their financial situation. You will not be enrolled in any of these plans automatically. Applications to enroll in an IDR plan on the Federal Student Aid site are open now. You must also recertify your income annually to remain on an IDR plan.

Saving on a Valuable Education (SAVE) plan is a new and much more generous IDR plan replacing the REPAYE plan. If you are already enrolled in REPAYE, you will be automatically moved to SAVE. On this IDR plan, you would see your monthly payments on undergraduate loans cut in half beginning in July 2024. Furthermore, if your annual income is under 225% of the federal poverty line ($32,805 per year for a one-person household), this plan would reduce your monthly payment to $0. Note that while some benefits took effect this summer, other benefits do not go into effect until July 2024. These new benefits will take place automatically for anyone enrolled in the SAVE plan.

All of the IDR plans provide that after 20 or 25 years of repayment, any additional debt will be forgiven. Borrowers who enroll in an IDR plan may therefore want to rethink their repayment strategy: rather than aiming to pay off your debt, you may want to focus on making your monthly payment as low as possible and take advantage of debt forgiveness in the future.

The Biden Administration also started a “Fresh Start” program for student loan borrowers who are in default on their loans. Some benefits are available now, and others will be available after the payment pause ends. The Department of Education is reaching out to defaulted borrowers to inform them of the steps they should take, so you should make sure that your student loan servicer has your current contact information. To learn more, visit the Department of Education’s Fresh Start page.

If at any point you have difficulty affording your student loan payments, you should first consider an IDR plan, which could result in a $0 payment. If an IDR plan is not affordable, you should ask your loan servicer about a deferment of payments, or a forbearance, which is a temporary pause making loan payments. Be aware that time in deferment or forbearance might not count toward the federal government’s various debt cancellation plans and that you may continue to accrue interest while you are not making payments.

Finally, if you have multiple federal student loans, you might want to consider “consolidating” your loan soon. This is the process of taking out a new federal loan to repay and replace your existing federal loans, and is necessary for borrowers with older loans to access some of the government’s newer programs. You can learn more on the Federal Student Aid website’s Consolidate Loans page. Although historically borrowers risked losing certain benefits if they consolidated, for most borrowers they can keep their benefits and consolidate if they do so before December 31, 2023.

For a more comprehensive breakdown of your options for managing student loan payments, visit the National Consumer Law Center’s Student Loan Borrower Assistance website or the Student Borrower Protection Center’s Cancel My Student Debt website. The State of Illinois is also hosting a series of webinars about managing student loan payments – learn more at go.uillinois.edu/repaying a series of webinars about managing student loan payments – learn more at go.uillinois.edu/repay.

Automatic, Recurring Payments

Many people pay their bills through automatic, recurring payments (e.g., subscriptions, gym memberships, loans, credit cards). We recommend canceling unnecessary subscriptions and re-subscribing when your financial situation improves.

If canceling is not the best option, contact the companies that deduct money through autopay to explain your situation. They may be willing to temporarily freeze your account. If that’s not an option, you have the right to stop automatic, recurring payments and to revoke your authorization for the company to deduct money. This will not relieve you of your obligation to pay the company, but you can manually control the timing of the payment and make the payment only after you have paid for essential items.

Credit Cards

Major credit card companies have assistance programs or list recommended go-to resources for borrowers experiencing financial difficulty. For example, American Express offers flexible payment plans while Capital One lists steps they recommend customers take to address financial hardship. Make sure you understand the benefits and drawbacks of any relief program before you opt in.

Visit your credit card company’s website to learn more. If you cannot find info online, call the customer service number on your card to ask about your options.

Medical Bills

Contact your medical provider/biller and explain that you are unable to pay the bill due to financial hardship and request a payment plan. If you do not have success with one representative, ask to speak to a supervisor who may be able to help more. You could also call back at a different time or a different day in the hopes of speaking to a different representative. Medical providers would rather put you on a payment plan than refer the account to a collection agency.

Child Support

If you owe child support and are unable to make the payments, first notify the person who receives the support. The State of Illinois also provides free child support services. Complete an online application for services. For more information, call 800-447-4278 or visit any Department of Child Support Services office. These services can also assist you if you are owed child support.

If you cannot afford to make your child support payments, the court may modify your obligation if you have lost your income or have another major hardship. The Greater Chicago Legal Clinic has a helpline at 312-796-3070. Illinois Legal Aid Online has an online guide to help you with paperwork.

Accounts in Collections

The worst thing you can do is to do nothing. Request a payment plan. If you already have a payment plan but are unable to afford the monthly payments, ask to adjust the plan.

Collection agencies would rather you pay something than refer it to their lawyers to collect through the court system. Staying in communication with them is most important.  For advice for dealing with debt collectors – including what they can (and can’t) legally do to collect on debt and sample letters you can use when communicating with debt collectors – see this article from the National Consumer Law Center. If a creditor or collection agency has sued you or is threatening to sue you, call legal aid. Even if your income is too high to qualify for legal aid, they can refer you to someone else.

Prefer Talking to a Live Person? Ask a Financial Coach.

Capital Good Fund’s financial coaching hotline provides one-on-one financial advice to any Illinois resident. Starting at $15 per month, the nonprofit can create a plan with you and can advocate on your behalf with creditors. They also offer a credit-builder program for $5 per month. Call 866-584-3651 (English or Spanish).

Working Credit NFP is a nonprofit that offers free financial counseling to help you build your credit, understand the credit system, and create a plan to reach your financial goals. Their credit building counseling program includes unlimited one-on-one support and coaching for 12 months for free. Sign up online (English and Spanish).

Man getting advice

The City of Aurora’s Financial Empowerment Center provides free, high-quality, one-on-one financial counseling to low-and moderate-income residents of the Aurora region. Learn more.

Many credit unions also offer free or low cost financial coaching. Check with your local credit union to learn about their offerings, and check the list under Option 3: Lower Cost Loans if you need help finding a credit union.


This resource guide is produced in partnership with Woodstock Institute, New America Chicago, , and Financial Inclusion for All Illinois.

Special thanks to all the hardworking nonprofits, socially-conscious lenders, and community partners who are helping restore wealth in our communities. Your work is so important! Thanks also to Jane Doyle, Brent Adams, Rob Mayo, Amy Eisenstein, Vanessa Rangel, Gordon Mayer, Meegan Dugan Adell, Winston Berkman-Breen at Student Borrower Protection Center, and Bob Palmer at Housing Action Illinois for their work on this project.