Interactions with creditors, especially if you don't have the money to pay them, can be quite stressful and frustrating. The challenge here is to be able to get them on your side in spite of a difficult financial situation.
There are certainly several ways of putting an end to unnecessary harassment and even bargaining for better repayment terms, deferred payment schedules, and other possible arrangements when tough times strike. Unfortunate financial circumstances shouldn't lead to a rift in your good relationship with the creditors. Consequently, the creditors must be cognizant of the fact that you have a right against unfair debt collection and credit reporting practices no matter what is stipulated by the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.
As soon as you encounter problems with your personal cash flow, don't wait until you have missed your payment schedule. Inform your creditors early on of your concern. In such way, you don't create a delinquent image as you manifest sincerity to settle your responsibilities. Likewise, solutions to the problem may be given ahead of time. Creditors will be willing to help if they are aware of your situation.
Early intervention is indeed the key here. Such may eliminate or lessen late charges. You may even have the option of paying only for the interest in the meantime. The service or utility may not be halted as well. Depending on the need, it may also be possible that your payment be deferred to as far off as the end of your contract. In other words, you may be able to negotiate for a more manageable payment scheme. As such, your account will remain under their care instead of those collection or credit reporting agencies.
Make sure though that before contacting them, you have figured out a certain plan of action. This plan should be realistic but, at the same time, auspicious to you and the creditors. Consider how much is left of your income for other expenses. List down all your fixed payments such as those for mortgage, loans, etc. Since you are on tight budget already, you might want to reduce your flexible expenses such as clothes, night-outs, etc. It would also be wise to think of possible ways of incurring additional income. When your own financial status has been laid down with which you have identified some sound courses of action, present it to the creditors. They will give you feedback about it as well as suggestions, if any.
You creditors may come from different institutions and make sure that you give priorities to them accordingly. Creditors from law enforcement agencies imposing on you as a result of court judgments such as those for child support, for example, are usually the strictest when it comes to making payments on time. They may disrupt your tax returns, collect your income, enforce encumbrances on property or suspension of licenses, and many others. They should normally be on top of your priorities. Next would be those for investments such as houses and cars as they can easily order turn over of the property. Of course, creditors from insurance, utility, and credit card companies should be prioritized as well but they normally have programs that offer some sort of a leeway during hard times. To get those is what you want to negotiate properly so work it out as soon as you observe symptoms of financial crisis.
There are several ways of contacting them. Initial explanation may be done over the phone. It will help if you are ready with a script so as to keep you composed and alert while you clearly give the details of your situation. Take note of what the other person is telling you. Further meetings, for example, may be setup and you definitely don't want to miss those. If in case arrangements were finalized over the phone, it would be advantageous to send a confirmation letter stating what you actually have agreed upon. This documents your conversation and safeguards you from possible denial and inconsistencies in the future.
The bottom line here is that whoever the creditor is, you must understand the consequences of not being able to pay them on time and weigh it out against realistic figures. Don't expect that, by doing so, they will just forget about your credit. It will definitely still remain your responsibility but you can make it more controllable at the moment.