smart spending

6-part personal bailout plan

Highlights
  • Veterans can get mortgage renegotiation help from the VA.
  • A federal program provides low-cost health insurance for children.
  • Use this Bankrate map to find unemployment benefits in your state.

It seems like there's a bailout for everyone these days -- except perhaps you.

Rather than wait for one to fall into your lap, why not create your own?

You can do it -- there are enough resources out there that you can put together a bailout plan of your own.

Sometimes the solution can be as simple as pinpointing one or two areas where you're having trouble. There are remedies if you know where to look and are not afraid to ask for help.

Here are a few common problem areas that you can concentrate your efforts:

6-point bailout plan
  1. Food and groceries
  2. Mortgages
  3. Health insurance
  4. Car payments
  5. Job loss
  6. Household bills

Food and groceries

When it comes to keeping food on the table, "a lot of people need help," says Ross Fraser, media relations manager for Feeding America (formerly America's Second Harvest), which helps to supply most of the nation's food banks.

So don't feel embarrassed asking for help, he says. Instead, "Get back on your feet, and then you can pay it back in kind," says Fraser.

Here's how to find a local food pantry: visit FeedingAmerica.org or call the group toll-free at (800) 771-2303. Ask for the closest food bank (these are the large food collection groups located in your region or metro area). Call that food bank and ask for your local food pantries, which are the small local sites that actually distribute food to individuals. The staff at the food bank can also give you information about upcoming food giveaways, Fraser says.

While food bank donations are up slightly, the need for food is up dramatically, says Fraser. Call ahead because in some areas that could mean two-hour lines and food shortages. You might also want to inquire about food stamps, says Fraser. Income requirements vary from state to state, but the food bank or food pantry can brief you on qualification guidelines and tell you which state office you need to contact.

Mortgages

People having trouble making home payments should first call their lender, many of whom have pledged to help homeowners in financial trouble. Depending on your needs, you might ask to renegotiate your terms, or simply add a couple of payments to the end of your loan.

Contact the company currently servicing your loan. The department you want will typically have a name like "loss mitigation," "foreclosure avoidance," or "home preservation," and be a part of the company's mortgage division, says Allen Fishbein, director of housing and credit policy for the Consumer Federation of America.

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Alternatively, you might have access to a nonprofit housing counselor who will negotiate for you. Many are funded by or work with local governments. Call your local city, county or state government for a referral, or contact NeighborWorksAmerica.org, says Ira Rheingold, executive director of the National Association of Consumer Advocates. You can also find a certified housing counselor through the nonprofit National Foundation for Credit Counseling at: HousingHelpNow.org. Or find a HUD-certified housing counselor on hud.gov or by calling (800) 569-4287.

Caveat: Go through a legitimate nonprofit, not a business masquerading as one. No one should charge you a dime for the services. Also, the solution has to work long-term, says Rheingold. If your payment has escalated beyond your means, a discount for a month or two won't solve your problem. And, if the solutions offered don't suit you, find another counselor and start over. Don't let anyone push you into a move that isn't right for you.

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