By Mario Gutierrez, NYLAG’s Director of Financial Counseling.
As the nation braces itself for the fallout of the coronavirus (COVID19) pandemic, it has shown once again the precarious nature of those who live paycheck to paycheck, earn low-wages, or are experiencing poverty.
Unfortunately, it is expected that individuals may lose income, or worse: their jobs. As the economy starts to sputter as a result of constricted consumer spending and social distancing, many will be affected.
But there are options. Now is the time to plan for the future to ensure you are in the best financial place you possibly can be. NYLAG’s only non-legal program, financial counseling, has deep expertise around financial planning for a crisis. In fact, we started in 2009 when the then financial crisis happened, helping thousands restore their economic stability.
CRISIS FINANCIAL PLANNING-6 THINGS YOU CAN DO RIGHT NOW.
- Prioritize bills – Whether your job has been affected or not, look at all your bills and identify which ones are critical and those that you may not need to pay immediately. Do check in with service providers as some may be offering assistance or an option to temporarily skip payments. For example, NY State’s major electric and gas utilities have agreed to not cut power or heat from customers unable to pay their bills during the virus pandemic.
- Reduce spending– You should start reducing nonessential and discretionary spending in the event things get worse. These expenses can include entertainment, certain food items, and luxuries. Those savings should be stuffed away in a savings account as an emergency fund in the event you lose income in the next few weeks or months.
- Reach out to credit cards – If you’re already losing income and having difficulty paying your debts, reach out to your credit cards providers immediately. Generally, credit card providers offer hardship programs, and some will even provide a small period for nonpayment. Many have now issued statements regarding their willingness to work with card holders who are facing financial strain due to the coronavirus. Check out this live page on assistance banks are providing: For those who do not have a credit card, you may want to consider opening one up for additional flexibility. Please consult with a financial counselor to ensure this makes sense for your financial circumstance.
- Change how you pay student loans – Federal student loans come with several already-existing options. There are two ways you can temporary suspend your payments: deferment and forbearance. With deferment, you may be able to avoid interest accrual, while with forbearance you won’t, which means your debt will grow. A best practice during forbearance is to pay down the interest portion so that the debt will not grow.
However, just days ago, the Department of Education has announced that it will waive interest accrual for deferments and forbearances for the foreseeable future. This will be very helpful for those who have no other option but to suspend their payments temporarily. Details are still being finalized.
There is another option though. Federal student loan borrowers can consider transitioning over to an income-driven repayment plan, which will lower the payment to a certain percentage of their income. Suspending or adjust your payments can be done by reaching out to your student loan servicer.
Private student loan borrowers do not have access to the same programs provided by the Department of Education, but can still reach out to their servicers to determine if there are any hardship programs being offered.
- Remove auto debit payments– If you think you will experience a cash crunch, you should consider removing auto debit payments for your bills and other utilities. This way you can provide yourself with more flexibility to prioritize expenditures.
- Lookout for price gouging and scams related to the Coronavirus. It is illegal for businesses to take unfair advantage of consumers by selling goods or services that are “vital to the health, safety, or welfare of consumers”. If you see any price gouging, you should file a complaint. Services that offer products that can “cure” the virus should be avoided. You can find more information here.
- Unemployment – Unemployment benefits are typically available for those who lose a job. This temporary income is designed to help workers who lose their job through no fault on their own. However, as part of the effort to reduce financial strain during the outbreak, the U.S. Labor Department has loosened the criteria. Individuals can now apply for these benefits if they quarantined, not working due to a risk of exposure or infection, or to care for a family member. As of 3/13/2020 NY State has also waived the 7-day waiting period. To find out more information or to apply, check out this link.
- SNAP and food pantries – For those facing a financial strain, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), could be extremely helpful. It provides a cash benefit for food to help supplement those expenses. More information can be found here. You can also consider checking our local food pantries, which you can find here.
- HFLS – The Hebrew Free Loan Society is offering the Coronavirus Financial Impact Loan to qualified individuals who have faced financial challenges due to the outbreak. Applicants need to have a co-signer and there are income limits. This loan has not costs or interest and more information can be found here.
- Aid for small businesses – If you are a small business you may find some relief through the SBA’s Coronavirus Disaster Relief Lending program. These are loans of up to $2 million with 30-year terms at a 3.75% interest rate. More information here.
- Special grants for bartenders experiencing cash shortage – If you are a bartender who is experiencing a shortage of cash due to coronavirus, there may be assistance for you. Click here to learn more.
- Self-care – The ever-changing situation is causing a lot of uncertainty and stress. As financial counselors, we know that financial stress impacts not only individual’s and families’ long-term financial well-being, but also their physical and mental health. NYC Well can connect individuals to free, confidential mental health support. They can speak to a counselor via phone, text, or chat; and if needed get referrals to mental health care providers. For more info on NYC Well, click here.
Despite the uncertainty and fear around coronavirus and its impact on economic stability, there are some promising developments. For example, as of March 16, 2020, the Civil Court of the City of New York has suspended entries of default judgements and most Housing Court eviction proceedings, which NYLAG helped to advocate for.
These are scary times, but you do have some control. The steps above can help to make a hard situation just a little bit better.
NYLAG’s financial counseling team is here for you. To learn more and get in contact, click here.