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Where To Find Financial Assistance During COVID-19

15-minute read

Read more on our COVID-19 Resource Guide.

As our nation continues to fight COVID-19, commonly known as the coronavirus, citizens’ financial health has become a growing concern. With businesses closing and states ordering individuals to stay at home, millions of Americans are struggling to find a way to make ends meet. While there are a number of programs in place – and more being added each day – to aid Americans who’ve been financially impacted by COVID-19, it can be challenging to get your hands on the information you need.

If you’re experiencing financial hardship due to the virus, know that you’re not alone. We know that figuring out how to maintain your financial health can be just as stressful as trying to protect yourself physically, and we’re here to help. This article will provide you with insight into the different types of relief programs that have been created and information on where you should turn based on your financial needs.

COVID-19 Stimulus Bill

Now that Congress has passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, millions of Americans will receive a stimulus check to help them make ends meet during these tough times. Through the $2.2 trillion stimulus package, individuals can receive up to $1,200, and married couples can receive up to $2,400.

The amount you receive will be based on the income you reported on your most recent tax return. So, only individuals who have earned $75,000 or less and married couples who have earned $150,000 or less will receive the full amount. If you earned more, $5 will be deducted from your check for every $100 you earned above the limit. However, if you have children, whom you’ve previously claimed as dependents, you can expect to receive up to an additional $500 per child under 17.

Although every little bit helps, depending on the severity of your financial circumstances, this stipend may not be enough to truly make a difference. That’s why we’ve compiled additional information on COVID-19 financial assistance programs based on Americans’ most significant expenses.

Expanded Unemployment Options

In the last 2 weeks, nearly 10 million Americans have filed for unemployment as a result of COVID-19. Unfortunately, the unemployment rate is expected to continue to increase as the country struggles to get a handle on the virus. However, thanks to the Families First Coronavirus Response Act and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, eligibility for unemployment benefits has been loosened and coverage has been extended. If you have been recently laid off, working for an employer who has temporarily closed their doors, forced to quarantine or leave to care for a family member, now’s the time to file for unemployment.

Through the CARES Act, individuals who don’t usually qualify for unemployment are covered through Pandemic Unemployment Insurance. This coverage applies to individuals who are self-employed, independent contractors, gig economy workers, as well as people who have a limited work history.

While unemployment typically lasts for 26 weeks, payouts have been extended to 39 weeks. Usually, unemployed workers are entitled to receive a percentage of their previous salary as determined by their state. However, those impacted by COVID-19 will receive an additional $600 check per week for the first 4 months of their unemployment. In some cases, this additional benefit will enable unemployment filers to obtain more funds than they did while they were employed.

Under normal circumstances, filers must wait a week before they’re eligible for unemployment. But, the FFCRA asked states to waive the waiting period, so affected workers could get their hands on much needed funds faster. For the seven states that had yet to do so, the CARES Act stepped in to offer funding to cover impacted workers’ first week of unemployment. The FFCRA also provides paid leave for workers who lacked it previously.

To file for unemployment, you must contact your state’s unemployment insurance program. For most states, filing should be done online. You can find the specific link to file for your state’s program as well as information about eligibility and benefits by going to CareerOneStop.org and selecting your state.

What To Do About Health Insurance

If you’ve been laid off or your hours have been reduced due to COVID-19, losing your health insurance is likely as substantial a concern as losing your paycheck. As cases of the virus continue to ramp up, now’s not the time for you or your family to be uninsured. Although the FFCRA has asked insurers to waive the testing fee for COVID-19, the bill does not cover the treatment of individuals who are uninsured.

Thankfully, there are a number of comprehensive, subsidized plans that will enable you to gain coverage – but, in some cases, you only have 60 days after your previous coverage ends to obtain it. Here’s a list of health insurance programs that you may be eligible for: 

Medicaid Expansion Coverage

Medicaid typically provides households free coverage, though in some cases, a small premium is required. Eligibility for this coverage is based on the household’s monthly income, which includes some unemployment insurance – the additional $600 check for workers impacted by COVID-19 does not apply. In 37 states, including Pennsylvania, Michigan, Louisiana and Arizona, Medicaid coverage is offered to those who make less than 138% of the Federal Poverty Level. That means an annual income of:

  • $17,609 for individuals
  • $23,791 for a family of two
  • $29,974 for a family of three
  • $36,156 for a family of four
  • $42,338 for a family of five
  • $48,521 for a family of six

Therefore, as an individual, your monthly income would need to be below $1,467 to qualify. As a family of 4, you’d need to be making less than $3,013 per month. If you believe you qualify, you can apply for Medicaid by going to your state’s website. Medicaid.gov has a list of the appropriate links for each state. When applying, make sure that you have proof of your current address and monthly income – proof of income can be in the form of your unemployment insurance benefits notice – as many states will require it. 

Subsidized Marketplace Coverage

For those who don’t qualify for Medicaid, the eligibility requirements for subsidized Marketplace health insurance plans are lower and available in all 50 states. Subsidies are determined based on households’ projected annual income, including current unemployment insurance, the money earned before unemployment and the money that’s expected to be earned upon returning to work. The lower your projected income, the less you’ll be expected to pay for coverage. To qualify, your projected annual income must be in line with or below the Federal Poverty Level. That means an annual income of:

  • $12,760 for individuals
  • $17,240 for a family of two
  • $21,720 for a family of three
  • $26,200 for a family of four
  • $30,680 for a family of five
  • $35,160 for a family of six

Since your projected annual income will be an estimation, the income you report on your 2020 tax return will be used later to determine whether the subsidy you received was appropriate. If you overestimated your annual income, you’ll receive money back. However, if you underestimated your income, you’ll be expected to repay a portion of the subsidy you received.

The 60-day window applies for this coverage, so you should apply now by going to HealthCare.gov. When applying, you’ll need to provide proof that you’ve had job-based insurance in the past 60 days, so make sure you have the date your insurance ended and a letter from your previous employer or insurer handy. You’ll be expected to include your projected annual income in your application and may be asked to provide proof of that income in the form of prior pay stubs, an unemployment insurance notice, etc. within 90 days.

COBRA Job-Based Coverage

If you’re concerned that you won’t qualify for other coverage options, know that employers are required to provide their former employees with the option to extend their coverage. Although far more expensive than other options, those who need it have a 60-day window to sign up for COBRA after losing job-based health insurance. However, individuals and families who choose to take this route are required to pay the full premium. The cost of this coverage will depend on the plan that’s offered by your employer. You can find out what the premium is and sign up by contacting your employer’s human resources personnel.

What To Do If You Can’t Pay Your Mortgage Or Rent

To help protect homeowners and renters, the federal government has suspended foreclosures and evictions for 60 days. These moratoriums provide some assistance for individuals affected by COVID-19, but there’s still a lot of confusion around who qualifies and what people should do if they can’t make their housing payments. 

Mortgage Payments 

If you’re a homeowner and can’t make your monthly mortgage payments, you should contact your lender or mortgage servicer immediately. There is mortgage relief offered to those who are dealing with a loss of income or illness due to COVID-19. If your loan is backed by the federal government, you can request mortgage forbearance for 180 days. Your forbearance plan will enable you to temporarily pause or reduce your payments. If you still can’t afford to make payments after those 6 months, you have the option to extend forbearance for up to an additional 180 days.

If you’re unsure whether your loan is federally backed, you can look it up through Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. For loans that aren’t, each servicer has different timeframes for mortgage forbearance, so you must check with them for more information.

If you’re a Quicken Loans® client, you’ll be offered a 3-month forbearance period with the option to extend up to 12 months total if you require more assistance. However, it’s recommended that you wait until you need financial help to apply so you can reserve the assistance for when you need it most. Log in to your Rocket Account to learn more about your options.

Rent

Unfortunately, financial assistance is not as straightforward for renters. Since the federal moratorium on evictions and foreclosures only applies to government-backed loans, there are 40 million renters who are not protected by it, according to The Washington Post. While there are many states and cities that are extending the ruling by providing moratoriums on evictions for all renters for 30 – 90 days, 12 states, including Ohio, Utah, Montana and Georgia, have yet to take action. The National Consumer Law Center is keeping an updated list of areas that have banned evictions, so you can check to see if you’re covered by your state.

For those who live in government-assisted housing, evictions and late fees have been suspended for 120 days thanks to the stimulus package that was recently passed. The bill also helps to prevent individual landlords with multifamily investment properties from evicting tenants by providing them with mortgage forbearance. However, this assistance also only applies to landlords who have federally-backed loans, so without knowledge of the type of mortgage your landlord possesses, you won’t know if you’re protected.

If you’re unable to pay your rent, you must speak to your landlord as soon as possible. By being straightforward about your financial situation, your landlord may be willing to allow you to defer or possibly even reduce your rent payments during this time. But, remember, if your landlord agrees to defer your rent, you’ll have to make back payments eventually. So, it’s best to discuss a specific payment plan that could benefit both you and your landlord.

If you need additional help, 211.org can help you locate rental assistance programs in your local area. You can also connect with them over the phone by dialing 2-1-1. United Way also has a list of resources for where to turn if you can’t afford to pay your rent.

What To Do If You Can’t Pay Your Utilities, Internet Or Phone Bill

As the bills begin to pile up, it may be challenging to find the funds to make payments for your utilities, internet and phone. But since the majority of the country now finds themselves under shelter-in-place orders, these services have become increasingly essential. Luckily, a number of companies are coming forward to try to ease the impact COVID-19 is having on individuals’ everyday lives.

Utilities

In response to the millions of Americans who are suffering physically and financially from COVID-19, many utility companies are taking steps to help lighten their customers’ financial burdens by agreeing not to turn off power for those who are unable to pay. Some companies are waiving late fees, as well as fees for making credit or debit card payments.

If you’re unable to pay your utility bill, you should contact your local provider to see what assistance they’re willing to provide. Here’s a chart of what some companies around the country are offering to meet the needs of their customers:

 

Company

Location

Suspending Service Disconnections

Waiving Fees

Payment Assistance

Consolidated Edison

New York City & Westchester

Shutoffs suspended

Waiving late-payment and credit and debit card fees.

10-day payment extensions; level payment plans to avoid seasonal spikes; free services for individuals with special needs.

PSE&G

New Jersey

Shutoffs suspended for electric and gas through at least the end of April.

Call to set up a deferred payment arrangement.

Deferred payment plans.

Commonwealth Edison

Illinois

Shutoff suspended through at least 5/1/20.

Waiving new late payments through at least 5/1/20.

Flexible payment arrangements; individually tailored installment plans; level payment plans to avoid seasonal spikes.

DTE Energy

Detroit

Shutoffs suspended for low-income customers who make 200% or less of the Federal Poverty Level through at least 4/30/20 and for those 62 or older through at least 5/3/20.

Call to set up a payment plan.

Flexible payment programs; Low Income Self-Sufficiency Plan enables qualified families to pay based on their income.

Florida Power & Light

Florida

Shutoffs suspended while Florida is under a state of emergency.

Waiving some late payment fees based on hardship.

Payment extensions for eligible customers based on their loyalty and payment history, but late payments could lead to a deposit being billed.

Pacific Gas and Electric

California

Shutoffs suspended until further notice.

Waiving security deposits.

Flexible payment plans.

NV Energy

Nevada

Shutoffs suspended for those directly impacted by COVID-19.

Waiving late fees and deposits for those financially impacted.

Alternative payment arrangements; expanded bill assistance for those who meet income requirements; level payment plans to avoid seasonal spikes.

Arizona Public Service

Arizona

Shutoffs suspended.

Waiving late fees.

Customer Support Fund for COVID-related hardships; flexible payment arrangements; level payment plans to avoid seasonal spikes.

 

Internet And Phone

In mid-March, the Federal Communications Commission took a strong stance on how internet and telephone providers should address the disruptions COVID-19 has caused the country. Chairman Ajit Pai implored providers to take a pledge to keep Americans connected throughout the crisis.

The pledge, which has already been signed by nearly 700 companies and associations, stipulates that in response to COVID-19, participating providers will continue to provide services for those who cannot pay their bills, waive late fees for residential and small business customers and open Wi-Fi hotspots to all Americans who need them for the next 60 days. Furthermore, Chairman Pai has requested all providers to create low-income broadband programs and extend programs that already exist.

If you can’t make your payments, you should contact your service provider as soon as possible to find out what assistance they are offering at this time. Before you contact them, you may want to check the FCC’s list of participating companies to see if your service provider has taken the pledge.

What To Do If You Can’t Make Your Credit Card Payments

Credit card companies and major banks that issue cards are creating new policies to enable flexible payment options for individuals who are struggling financially due to the virus. If you’re unable to make the minimum payment on your credit card, you should call your issuer now. It’s best to contact their customer services representatives before you fall behind on your payments, as they may already have programs in place that will enable you to defer your payments.

For those who request assistance, American Express is offering to potentially waive late fees, suspend interest charges for those who need to skip payments and provide lower interest rates, depending on the severity of the customer’s specific financial circumstances. Bank of America is accepting online requests for payment deferrals. Capital One is asking those who need it to contact their issuer to see if they are eligible to skip payments without being charged interest. Citi cardholders may be able to increase their credit line or take part in a collection forbearance program to give them more time to pay their bill.

If you go to your issuer’s website, you may notice that they provide a limited amount of information about their financial assistance programs. These websites encourage customers to reach out to them directly by calling customer services or filling out an online application. When you contact them, it’s useful to prepare by first going through your income and expenses so you can explain exactly what you can and can’t afford. You may also want to ask them the following questions to get a clearer understanding of the kind of assistance they’re offering: 

  • Can you waive interest charges if I am able to make minimum payments?: If you can afford to, making minimum payments on your credit card is a good way to prevent yourself from falling too behind on your payments. However, you want to make sure that making partial payments doesn’t cause you to accrue more interest.
  • Are you able to offer me a payment deferral plan?: Some issuers will be willing to allow you to defer payments for a month or longer. However, if they agree to let you skip a payment, make sure you ask them if they’ll continue charging interest.
  • Would you be willing to waive late fees during this time?: Issuers tend to apply late fees, as well as interest charges, to accounts when individuals skip or make late payments. You want to have a clear understanding of which charges they waive and which you should expect to see on your account.
  • Can you lower my interest rate?: If your issuer is unwilling to waive fees or defer your payments, there may be a chance that they’ll still be willing to lower your interest rate. Make sure to check your credit score in advance. If your FICO®Score has improved since you applied for the card, you may have more power to negotiate with your issuer.
  • Can you increase my credit limit?: Generally speaking, it’s ill-advised to increase your limit when you’re already in debt. However, given the circumstances, increasing your limit may enable you to access the funds you need to get through this difficult time. Therefore, this option should only be used if your issuer is unwilling to provide you with any other type of assistance.

If you have multiple credit cards that you’re unsure of how to pay off, it may be a good time to consolidate your credit card debt.

What To Do If You Can’t Pay Your Car Loans

Automobile companies are also stepping up to the plate to work with customers who are struggling to pay their car loans or leases. Automakers are providing a variety of different assistance programs, including payment deferral programs.

If you need help paying off your Chevrolet, Buick, GMC or Cadillac, General Motors is automatically waiving all late fees between March 1 and April 30. Payment extensions are not available for leases, but they are being provided for retail contracts. Although GM may allow you to defer your payments, you should speak to them first to explore all possibilities as they will not be waiving interest charges on deferred payments.

Ford is asking customers to sign into their Account Manager to see their options. They may be willing to provide relief for individuals who financed through Ford. However, they’ve also rolled out a Built to Lend a Hand program, which offers 6 months of payment relief to eligible customers who purchase certain 2019 and 2020 models.

Honda, Acura, Hyundai, Genesis and Kia are all offering payment deferral plans for customers for varying lengths of time, from 60 days to 6 months. Check with your automaker to find out what they’re willing to do to help you.

What To Do If You Can’t Pay Your Student Loans

If you have student loans, the office of Federal Student Aid has stepped in to provide you with student loan relief while the country continues to be impacted by the virus. Between March 13 and September 30, 2020, all borrowers with federally held student loans will automatically be enrolled in a 6-month forbearance period. Unlike normal instances of forbearance, borrowers will not be charged any interest during this time. Collections on defaulted loans have also been suspended until September 30.

However, it’s highly recommended that you continue to make payments if you can afford to. Since student loans will not accrue interest for the next 6 months, you have the opportunity to chip away at more of your principal. After you have paid off the interest accrued prior to March 13, 2020, all payments you make will be applied directly to your principal balance. The faster you pay off your principal, the more money you’ll save in the long run.

If your student loan is not federally held but instead held by a commercial lender, bank, credit union or private entity, you should contact your loan servicer to see what options they are willing to provide you.

What To Do If You Can’t Pay For Food And Everyday Expenses

Even if you work out payment options for your loans and bills, you may still have difficulty affording your basic, everyday needs. If you don’t have the means to buy food, there are food banks and local programs that can help. Feeding America has a network of food banks across the nation and can help you locate one in your area.

The USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service also has a list of resources for helping individuals to obtain food. Their resources are especially helpful for families as they are working with many states to provide food for kids who would typically qualify for free or reduced-price meals at school.

United Way and 211.org also have a range of local funds and programs available to assist individuals in paying for everyday expenses.

We hope these resources will help ease your financial stress and get through this challenging time. If you’re looking for ways to make some extra cash, read about various side hustles you can do from home.

For more information on this new reality and how to contend with it, check out our COVID-19 Resource Guide.

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