As the coronavirus pandemic continues to rage across the country, millions of Americans are in need of financial help just to make ends meet. Yet, while there are some financial assistance programs available, figuring out how to navigate them can be difficult at best. With that in mind, we’ve created a guide on where to find financial help during the pandemic. Read on below to learn more.
Filing for unemployment insurance
Together, the passage of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act have expanded states’ ability to provide unemployment insurance for workers impacted by the pandemic. Notably, the CARES Act also extends unemployment benefits to individuals who were previously deemed ineligible, including gig workers and freelancers.
To access unemployment insurance benefits, you will need to file a claim with the unemployment insurance program in the state in which you’ve worked. Each state will have its own process for filing an unemployment claim, so your best bet is to contact that state’s unemployment insurance office. In particular, the Department of Labor offers a state-by-state guide (https://www.dol.gov/general/topic/unemployment-insurance) on where to go to start filling a claim.
Managing your housing payment
If you’re concerned about how to pay your mortgage or rent, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) are working together to help homeowners and renters through the CARES Act.
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Many state and local governments have also paused evictions because of the impact of the pandemic. The Eviction Lab at Princeton University has provided a tool (https://evictionlab.org/covid-policy-scorecard/) to help you quickly look up the changing eviction policies in your area. However, there are many options available before you should have to rely on an eviction freeze.
If you’re a homeowner, call your loan servicer and ask about the possibility of a mortgage forbearance. On the other hand, if you’re a renter, talk to your landlord. He or she may be agreeable to temporary changes, such as rent reductions or delayed payments. Finally, check with your state, city, or county, to see if they have any available programs to help you cover your housing expenses.
Staying on top of your utility bills
In response to the pandemic, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) created the “Keep America Connected” campaign to ensure Americans do not lose their broadband or telephone connectivity. As part of the campaign, more than 700 companies and associations have agreed not to terminate service to any residential or small business customers because of their inability to pay their bills, to waive late fees, and to open Wi-Fi hotspots to any American who needs them.
If you need help staying on top of your utility bills, the first thing that you should do is contact your individual provider. Beyond those companies that have signed up to participate in the campaign, many utility providers also have financial assistance programs in place.
Protecting your credit score
Similarly to your utility bills, if you’re unsure that you’ll be able to continue making at least the minimum payment on your credit card, you should contact your credit card issuer to see what options are available to you.
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That said, if your lenders have agreed on a payment assistance program or forbearance, it’s also a good idea to routinely check your credit reports to make sure they’re accurate and reflect those agreements. For example, if your lender has allowed you to skip a payment last month, make sure it was not reported as delinquent or a missed payment on your credit report.
To help you protect your credit score, the three major credit reporting agencies – Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion – are now offering free, weekly-access to online reports through April 2021.
Maintaining your student loan payments
The CARES Act legislation also paused the payment requirement and accrual of interest on all Federal student loans until September 30, 2020. For better information on what relief options are available for government-backed student loans, visit the U.S. Department of Education Office of Federal Student Aid’s pandemic information page ( https://studentaid.gov/announcements-events/coronavirus).
There may also be assistance available for qualified private loan borrowers who are experiencing financial difficulty during the pandemic. For example, Navient is currently offering up to three months of administrative forbearance to qualified borrowers who request it. Depending on your lender, other programs may also be available, such as a temporary interest rate reduction or interest-only payments.