Although the coronavirus vaccine rollout has started, the pandemic continues to rage on across the country, and it will likely be many months before the economy is back on its feet. Millions of Americans are in need of financial help just to make ends meet. While there are financial assistance programs available, some aspects may have changed at the beginning of 2021, and 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 to learn more.

Filing for unemployment insurance

Last year’s passage of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act expanded states’ ability to provide unemployment insurance for individuals impacted by the pandemic. Additional legislation passed near the end of 2020 extended the time that special Federal unemployment benefits are available.
To access unemployment insurance benefits, you will need to file a claim with the unemployment insurance program in the state in which you were employed. Each state has its own process for filing an unemployment claim, so be sure to contact that state’s unemployment insurance office. 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 are concerned about how to pay your mortgage or rent, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), and the 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 are a homeowner, call your loan servicer and ask about the possibility of a mortgage forbearance. On the other hand, if you are a renter, talk to your landlord. They 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

If you need help staying on top of your utility bills, the first thing that you should do is contact your individual provider. Many utility providers have financial assistance programs in place and are willing to work with customers who are facing temporary hardships.

In addition, some states, cities, and counties have a temporary halt in place, preventing utilities from disconnecting customers for nonpayment, particularly for vital services such as electricity, water, natural gas, and sewage. The National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners has a map of state moratoriums (https://www.naruc.org/compilation-of-covid-19-news-resources/map-of-disconnection-moratoria/), and the office of your local elected representative should be able to provide you with further info.

Protecting your credit score

That said, if your lenders have agreed on a payment assistance program or forbearance, it is 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.

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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 at least April.

Maintaining your student loan payments

The CARES Act and additional legislation paused the payment requirement and accrual of interest on Federal student loans until at least January 31, 2021. For 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 one month 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.

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.


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