Uber Frugal Week Day 2: What To Do if You’ve Lost Your Job and Other Coronavirus-Related Benefits

Welcome to Day 2 of my pandemic-inspired, 8-day, what-do-I-do with my money, Uber Frugal Week series. For more about this series, including an overview of what I’ll cover each day, check this out. I recommend you read the series in order; start with Day 1 here. Read disclaimers about me and the series here.

While the Uber Frugal Month is an email program, the Uber Frugal Week will appear right here on the blog in a series of posts. I will publish Uber Frugal Week posts as quickly as I can but, in all honesty, I haven’t written all of the posts yet because pandemic means both of my kids are home all the time and my husband and I are both working from home. I’m writing as fast as I can, I promise!

Uber Frugal Week: Day 2

Today’s focus is the benefits available to folks in the United States that’ve arisen in response to the coronavirus pandemic. If this doesn’t apply to you, it’s likely you know someone who would benefit from this information–please share this post with them.

I’m not re-inventing the wheel today; rather, my goal is to provide you with all of this information in one place. You will need to do a lot of research on your own (based on where you live and what your circumstances are) but my hope is that this post will provide you with a framework for your research and a jumping-off point.

For all available benefits, I link you to primary sources of information, such as the IRS, as opposed to someone’s opinion on the IRS. It’s important to utilize primary sources to avoid scams and incorrect or misleading information. When in doubt, rely on a .gov website.

This is an ever-changing situation and it’s likely a lot of this information will be out of date in few short weeks. In light of that, please refer to the primary sources linked at the beginning of each section for the most up-to-date information.

Benefits Available Due To the Coronavirus

1) Economic Impact Payments (sometimes called stimulus checks)

Due to the coronavirus, the US government plans to send money to qualified US taxpayers thanks to the CARES Act, which was signed into law on March 27, 2020. Receipt of an economic impact payment is dependent upon your income, your family structure, and how you filed your taxes last year. The details on who will receive money–and how– is here: Economic impact payments: What you need to know.

Here’s more about who is eligible, according to the United States Internal Revenue Service

Tax filers with adjusted gross income up to $75,000 for individuals and up to $150,000 for married couples filing joint returns will receive the full payment. For filers with income above those amounts, the payment amount is reduced by $5 for each $100 above the $75,000/$150,000 thresholds. Single filers with income exceeding $99,000 and $198,000 for joint filers with no children are not eligible. Social Security recipients and railroad retirees who are otherwise not required to file a tax return are also eligible and will not be required to file a return.

Eligible taxpayers who filed tax returns for either 2019 or 2018 will automatically receive an economic impact payment of up to $1,200 for individuals or $2,400 for married couples and up to $500 for each qualifying child.

Do not respond to anyone who calls or emails you asking for sensitive personal information, even if they claim to be from the IRS or your bank. They are scammers. Please utilize trusted primary sources for information, such as the IRS website. Never give out your social security number, or bank routing numbers, over the phone or in an email.

According to the IRS:

The IRS isn’t going to call you asking to verify or provide your financial information so you can get an economic impact payment or your refund faster. That also applies to surprise emails that appear to be coming from the IRS. Remember, don’t open them or click on attachments or links. Go to IRS.gov for the most up-to-date information.

Read the full IRS press release on scams related to economic impact payments here.

Summary:

  • Your eligibility for an economic impact payment depends on your income (as reported in your taxes), your family structure, and how you’ve filed your taxes in the past.
  • You don’t have to lose your job to be eligible.
  • If you filed your 2018 (or 2019) taxes, you don’t need to take any action or apply for the program–it’ll happen automatically based on your tax returns.
  • Do not provide social security, banking, or other sensitive information over the phone or by email to anyone claiming to be from the IRS. They are scammers.
  • Economic impact payments will come from the IRS directly.
  • You can find reliable, up-to-date information at IRS.gov/coronavirus

2) Unemployment Insurance (sometimes called unemployment benefits)

  • Primary source: The US Department of Labor

If you’ve lost your job, you can file for unemployment insurance (sometimes called unemployment benefits) in the state where you worked. Unemployment insurance is administered by each state, so you’ll need to apply through your state’s specific portal.

The US Department of Labor outlined the new unemployment benefits now available due to COVID-19:

In March 2020, new federal law greatly expanded unemployment insurance. Many workers who were not previously covered are now eligible. You may now be eligible if any of the following are true:

  • Your employer permanently or temporarily laid you off due to coronavirus measures
  • Your employer reduced your work hours due to coronavirus measures
  • You are self-employed and have lost income due to coronavirus measures
  • You’re quarantined and can’t work due to coronavirus
  • You’re unable to work due to a risk of exposure to coronavirus
  • You can’t work because you’re caring for a family member due to coronavirus

In addition to expanding eligibility, new federal law also:

  • Increases the weekly benefit amount that states currently provide by $600, until July 31, 2020
  • Provides an additional 13 weeks of benefits for people who are still unemployed after their state benefit period runs out

source: Unemployment Benefits Finder (from the US Department of Labor)

You can use this Department of Labor website to find out where to apply for unemployment in your state.

Summary:

  • If you’ve lost your job, you can apply for Unemployment Insurance through the state where you worked.
  • Due to the coronavirus, the government expanded the guidelines for who is eligible for Unemployment Insurance. For example, gig workers and people who are self-employed are now eligible.
  • The federal government will give you an additional $600 per week in addition to the benefits you receive from your state.
  • To apply, start with the US Department of Labor’s Unemployment Benefits Finder.

3) Healthcare

If you used to have healthcare coverage through your job, and you’ve now lost your job, you can apply for healthcare coverage through the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Losing your job–or even just a change in your income–counts as a “qualifying life event” and makes you eligible to apply for coverage through the ACA. Go to HealthCare.gov to apply. Some states are also offering subsidized health insurance for people who’ve lost their jobs due to the coronavirus.

4) Federal Tax Filing Deadline Extended

In light of the pandemic, the IRS has extended the federal tax filing deadline to July 15, 2020. This is an automatic extension for everyone (you don’t need to apply for it). Note that this applies to federal taxes only, not state taxes. Some states have also extended their filing deadlines and the IRS has a state-by-state list here. More about the federal tax filing deadline here.

5) Federal Student Loans

In light of the pandemic, you can stop making monthly payments on your federal student loans for the period of March 13, 2020 to September 30, 2020, without any consequences. Before you stop making payments, please read the Department of Education’s directions and FAQs here.

From the Department of Education:

To provide relief to student loan borrowers during the COVID-19 national emergency, federal student loan borrowers are automatically being placed in an administrative forbearance, which allows you to temporarily stop making your monthly loan payment. This suspension of payments will last until Sept. 30, 2020, but you can still make payments if you choose.

Additionally, interest rates will be 0% on federal student loans from March 13, 2020 to September 30, 2020. More info about this interest rate change here.

Please note that this forbearance only applies to federal student loans. If your student loans are through a private lender, do not assume that you can stop making payments. You will need to contact your lender directly to see what (if any) concessions can be made.

6) Federal Mortgages

If your mortgage is held by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, you might be able to delay payments without incurring any fees. You need to contact your mortgage servicer to see if you qualify for this arrangement. The Federal Housing Finance Agency has this really helpful FAQ sheet about mortgage assistance. Wondering who owns your mortgage? This handy tool to the rescue.

7) Negotiating Forbearance With Private Lenders: Mortgage, Car Loan, Credit Cards, etc

The FDIC has encouraged banks to work with customers who are unable to make payments on loans/mortgages due to COVID-19. Unfortunately, this isn’t mandatory and forbearance is at the discretion of each individual bank/lender.

According to the FDIC:

Immediately contact your creditors if you do not think you can pay your bills or make credit card or loan payments on time. Paying your debts late or not at all can result in penalties, interest charges, and damage to your credit score. Your creditors should be able to work with you on a solution, but it is important to contact them as soon as possible and explain your situation.

If you’ve lost your job and aren’t able to pay your mortgage or rent:

  • Call your mortgage servicer or landlord and ask how they might be able to work with you. This often involves adding the payment onto the end of your mortgage, which will cost you more over the long run, but it might be what you need to do if you don’t have a job and are waiting to receive unemployment benefits. Even if you’re not making mortgage payments, interest will continue to accrue.
  • If you’re a renter, JustShelter.org provides information on resources to combat homelessness/prevent eviction in every state. Additionally, some states have enacted no-eviction policies in light of the pandemic.
  • The National Low Income Housing Coalition is compiling information related to housing and homelessness in the time of COVID-19.

If you’ve lost your job and aren’t able to pay your car loan, credit card debt, or non-federal student loans:

  • Call your loan servicer to see what they’re offering.
  • Lenders are incentivized to keep you from going into default, so they will hopefully work with you.
  • Just as with a mortgage, this approach will likely be more expensive over the long run, so only do it if you must.

Forbes created this incredibly helpful list of what individual banks are offering to their customers and the American Bankers Association has this searchable directory.

Remember, you need to contact your loan servicer to arrange for loan forbearance–don’t just stop making payments. It’s also important to remember that this isn’t a forgiveness or elimination of your debts; it’s just putting them on hold for a specified period of time (during which they will likely continue to accrue interest).

Summary:

  • Private lenders (i.e. banks and credit card companies) might be able to work with you on reducing or delaying your debt payments on things like mortgages, car loans, credit card debt, and private student loans.
  • If you have a federally serviced student loan or mortgage, check with the government on what relief programs are available to you.
  • You must contact your bank or lender directly to negotiate. Do not stop payments and assume they’ll offer you forbearance.
  • Only do this if it’s financially imperative because it’s possible it’ll cost you more in the long run. If you can cut back in other areas, do that first.
  • This isn’t forgiveness or elimination of your debts, they’re just being put on hold. In other words, you will have to pay the full amount in the future.

8) Utilities: Phone and Internet Service

The FCC is encouraging phone and internet companies to not terminate service for customers who can’t pay their bills during the pandemic. Here’s a list of all the companies that have agreed to this pledge. I’m unclear on whether this is automatic or you need to call your service provider to sign-up. If it were me, I’d go ahead and call before ceasing to make phone and internet payments.

9) Utilities: Electricity, Water, Gas

Some utility companies in some states aren’t shutting off utilities for non-payment. This seems to be pretty patchwork, so your best bet is to call your utility companies to inquire about their coronavirus relief programs. As with all other things, don’t just stop paying your bills–call the company first to see what they’re offering to customers. ProPublica has information here.

10) Paid Sick and Family Leave

According to the Department of Labor:

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA or Act) requires certain employers to provide employees with paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave for specified reasons related to COVID-19. The Department of Labor’s (Department) Wage and Hour Division (WHD) administers and enforces the new law’s paid leave requirements. These provisions will apply from the effective date through December 31, 2020.

If your employer didn’t previously offer paid sick/family leave, they may now be required to do so. Here are the details on the program. Contact your employer to find out what’s available to you.

11) Small Business Assistance

There are a number of loans and funding programs now available to small businesses, including paycheck protection, debt relief, and bridge loans. Go to the Small Business Administration’s Coronavirus Relief Options site to apply.

12) Other Resources and References

13) Lend a Hand

If, like me, you find yourself in the fortunate position of not needing any of the above benefits, please consider supporting those who do. I’m focusing my philanthropy on my local community by donating to local relief efforts, including our local domestic violence support center and several local community organizations dedicated to helping neighbors in need. The New York Times offers this article on where and how to give back during the pandemic.

I’ve also made the decision to increase our grocery budget in order to purchase as many farm products as possible from our neighbors (my chest freezer is FULL of local, grass-fed, organic beef). Everyone’s ability to help during this time will be different and everyone has seasons of being able to help and needing to receive help. Please do not feel guilty for whichever group you fall into–we all experience both over the course of our lives. If you need help, please reach out. If you can offer help, please reach out. Now’s the time to set aside judgement, partisanship, and sanctimonious-ness and just help each other out.

What questions do you have about Day 2? What resources have I missed? If you live outside of the US, what sites provide the best resources for benefits in your country?

Here’s the link to the next post in the series: Day 3

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41 Responses

  1. Cara says:

    Hi Liz, I think I have a correction. In the first paragraph of part 1) you say that stimilus payments are available to qualified US residents- but in every source I’ve seen, including US government websites, the criteria is not limited to US residents- us US taxpayers living overseas are also entitled. A lot of us work for US companies and are running the same risks as the folks at home. Though a change of administration is what would really make being American overseas easier, in my experience.

  2. Françoise says:

    This series is absolutely incredible and so helpful to many. Thank you for doing this, not sure how you’re swinging it with your two beautiful babies at home but colour me impressed and grateful!

  3. KP says:

    Thanks for this helpful list! One other thing I think is important to mention is that federal student loan interest rates are also at 0% now. So it’s not just that payments can be suspended.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Many thanks, KP! I’ve updated the post!

      • Monique says:

        Just to add this does not apply to all federal student loans. Only student loans which are owned by US Dept of Education are eligible. If you consolidated your federal student loans and your loan type is FFEL, it may be owned by a commercial lender and is ineligible for this payment suspension. You can still apply for emergency forbearance for 3 months but interest will accrue and there are options for unemployment deferment for 6 months as well.

  4. Kelly Marie says:

    Great post, and thank you for putting all this information in one place. So helpful!

  5. This is a great resource.

  6. JM says:

    great info-thanks for the listing!Have fun homeschooling those cute kiddos…. I homeschooled mine from birth-graduation and I wouldn’t trade it for anything- I miss it still. We had some crazy good times together.

  7. Caroline Bowman says:

    Wrong country BUT very good point re shopping locally if remotely possible. Simplest is to run to nearest (insert large retailer close to home that has most of what you want), and obviously this may be least taxing and least expensive. If you have found your budget for things like entertainment cut because there isn’t any to spend money on (as I have), then add a bit to shopping slightly more expensively via small local providers who deliver maybe.

    • Gretel Stroh says:

      I live in a small (2400) town, and am trying to only buy from my local independant grocery store, where I know the people, and my local Walgreens. When I get my stimulas I want to donate some of that money to local non profits offering food assistance. Keeping my money in the county

  8. Carolanne says:

    Hi – interesting, but if you have other U.K. followers, the best advice here comes from Martin Lewis of moneysavingexpert. I’m sure they’ll know him – as he’s pretty well known. He is the best for accurate advice here in the UK. Cheers!

    • Jen m says:

      As another UK reader i heartily second this – money saving expert (.com) is an amazing repository of information on all things financial for anyone in the UK. It’s a really comprehensive, impartial and fact-based resource created by consumer advocate Martin Lewis. As Carolanne says, most UK readers probably already know about this, but if not, check it out! It’s always my first source for financial or consumer-rights information 🙂

      • RG says:

        Thirding this!

        • RG says:

          And I’ll also point out, as I do every chance I get, that having a national healthcare system that is free at the point of use means that this is one less worry to have when/if one loses their job. As we’ve seen here, job loss can happen to anyone, and being able to tend to healthcare needs should not be tied to one’s ability to maintain paid employment.

  9. Great list!

    Another set of things to consider is tapping into your 401(k). Of course you have to be VERY CAREFUL any time you withdraw from that pile of money, especially if it was stock market invested and just lost 20+% of its value. But if it might apply to you (you wanted to tap into it anyway, and now you can without penalty, etc), there are several interesting options available. This article lays it out nicely, although I can’t find any .gov or IRS primary sources – https://www.forbes.com/sites/ashleaebeling/2020/04/10/laid-off-and-need-cash-want-a-boat-a-couple-can-take-400000-from-their-retirement-accounts-penalty-free-under-covid-19-tax-relief/amp/

  10. KNinChicago says:

    An important note is that not all states are ready to start giving out unemployment to the self-employed yet. I was researching this issue for a person I know who is self-employed and lost a large amount of business due to COVID-19 and noted that in their state (California) they aren’t set up to handle that yet.

    I hope this is a wake up call to state unemployment departments to modernize their practices. See this interesting article:
    https://www.marketplace.org/shows/marketplace-tech/covid-19-state-unemployment-claims-old-coding-language/

    If you are self-employed these programs are difficult to navigate and to compare/contrast. I found this article informative:
    https://www.businessinsider.com/personal-finance/ways-self-employed-people-get-help-from-federal-government-coronavirus-2020-4

  11. Blair says:

    This is a great source of information. Thank you! Just a question to maybe make a post like this more user-friendly: when you click a link on this site, you lose the tab with the blog post on it and it gets replaced with the link you opened. It would be much easier if clicking a link opened a new tab so that you don’t constantly lose the original post while trying to read all of the information. Maybe other readers can chime in about whether they’d prefer this too?

    Thanks again for creating this helpful series!

  12. Anita Estes says:

    I received your link from a friend.. Seniors on Social Security will also get a stimulus payment sent automatically. This is the link to information.from the treasury department https://home.treasury.gov/news/press-releases/sm967

  13. Alex Foret says:

    One important note with student loans:

    It isn’t just that they need to be federal loans, they need to be loans owned by the Department of Education. Perkins Loans and a federally-administered program, but they are typically owned by your school so they aren’t covered. Federal Perkins Loans are still accruing interest and requiring payments in most cases!

  14. Anita Estes says:

    I forgot to mention that the Form SSA-1099 and RRB – 1099 are the forms sent to recipients at the end of the year for those who receive SS or Railroad Retirement / Black Lung payments and also have jobs. The income is included when they file taxes for their job wages.

    Umm, what does the command button look like? I don’t see one on my keyboard.

  15. megan says:

    health insurance- look into medicaid! you may be eligible!

  16. Michele says:

    I was permanently laid off on 3/25 and tried that day to file for unemployment. Couldn’t get through. Website kept timing out. I had heard earlier that week to try in the middle of the night, and I ended up getting through on 3/26 at 2am. It took 15 days to get my approval letter. I’m in IL.

    Also, your state unemployment office’s website will show when the additional $600/week unemployment from the feds will begin and end in your state. IL only started it last week.

    Also, please make it clear that even though evictions, etc., may be delayed until after stay at home orders are lifted, in a particular state, **the rent (or utility bills, etc) will still need to be paid** I’ve run into a lot of people online who think it means they won’t have to owe!

  17. ClaireL says:

    Thank you for this series. I’m incredibly fortunate to be able to work from home during this time. Pre-covid19, I worked from home only once per week, which was a nice break from the office. Now I have to work from home 5 days a week and struggling to be productive in any way, struggling with the anxiety of not getting anything done, and just…..struggling. Any chance you might consider doing a post of mental health and/or productivity while going through all of this? I know I’m hugely privileged for still having an income during this time, but there are so many unknowns for my community, my people (and by that, I mean all people), and the future, it’s hard to think straight and charge forward.

  18. Laura says:

    I wanted to say THANK YOU for putting this together! This must have been a lot of work to compile, especially with two darling little distractions. 🙂 I hope not to need it (other than the part about how to give back, thank you for including that) but we don’t know what the future will bring (so I’m focusing on managing the family finances to cut spending, build savings, and pay down debt) and will bookmark this post. The other thing I’m doing, and it is incredibly hard right now to do, is to stay as focused at work as possible, prioritize tasks, and generally figure out how to not only do my job but add value so if the layoff ax begins to swing, it will hopefully miss me. (To paraphrase an old military joke, I can’t worry about the bullet with my name on it, it’s the one marked “To Whom It May Concern” that I want to dodge.). Good luck with everything going on! Namaste.

  19. Heidi Louise says:

    Thank you for coordinating all of this information, and for stressing looking at the sources!
    Unfortunately, this is of course ripe time for scams and fraudsters. I read that the IRS will only call them “economic impact payments, ” never “stimulus checks,” so consider that as one sign of a scam.
    This is a horrible time for people who are not computer literate, or people who trust anyone who phones them. Check especially on your elderly family and friends and see if they are fraud-aware; the things directed at them are dreadful. Most unfortunately, the scammers often get away with their ploys, and the victims do not wish to admit they were taken. Don’t give out your Social Security, Medicare, Health Insurance, Credit Card, or Bank Account Numbers! Even if the caller-ID says the right agency! The government will never want you to buy retail gift cards and send them the numbers! You will never be phoned to say you missed jury duty and have to pay a penalty!

  20. Heidi Louise says:

    Another group that is suffering is small market news providers: Local radio, newspaper, as well as public broadcasting, etc. They might have already been on shaky ground for some years, but really are being hit now with loss of ad revenue or subscribers or even stories to cover as fewer events are being held, especially for the sports pages. Keep them in mind if they are important to you and consider subscribing or boosting their work.

  21. JD says:

    I was trying to sift through the information from our state, county, city, and federal government for my workplace, and it was not easy, so kudos for getting this all down simply, in black and white.
    As I mentioned, some cities and/or counties are offering their own sort of packages. Check your local government’s websites.
    I am lucky, at least so far. Our office just received a paycheck protection loan, good for two months, so we will hopefully squeak on through this without layoffs. We are a tiny business, but considered essential, so although we are quite slow, we are still working, just from home.
    I looked at my monthly average spending, and definitely see some places I could cut back. I’m a dedicated home improvement person, but maybe I could let that slide for right now…
    I’m looking forward to the next installment!

  22. Mary says:

    As a person (retired) who tends toward frugality as a way of life (not as frugal as you guys but more frugal than the average American) I am of two minds when I am asked to support restaurants and their workers by eating take-out two times a week. One the one hand, I have sympathy for those who have lost their jobs and maybe even their businesses but on the other hand, asking people to bust their budgets buying take out is not frugal. I have read many of your posts and those of other frugalistas that always mention eating out, other than very occasionally, as a big budget buster and not frugal at all. So what to do? I am on a fixed income and shouldn’t eat out that often. I also have a medical issue that contradicts eating out very often. Most restaurant food is loaded with salt. What say you and your frugal readers on this matter?

    • Selena says:

      In my mind, your health comes first. One needs to figure out what one can do to help. For some, it may not be much if anything. But those who can safely help should help IMHO.

    • lizziv says:

      I would say you should support local businesses in whatever way makes sense for you. If you have the money to spare, perhaps you could donate to a local charity or buy a gift card for a local store instead of getting takeout.

  23. Selena says:

    https://money.com/who-gets-stimulus-checks-first/

    “Pecking order” as to how relief checks (not stimulus in my book) are being sent.

  24. Thanks for putting this together.

  25. Britini says:

    I am fortunate enough to continue as an employed, on-call, paid public school employee. I have student loans that fall under the regulations listed above and will be in forbearance with 0% interest. I also have high interest credit card debt. I am wondering if it makes sense to take advantage of the forbearance and use that money towards knocking out the other debt for the foreseeable future?

  26. lizziv says:

    We set up a Dependent Care FSA for daycare expenses, and now we obviously won’t be using the full amount we planned to put into it. Our plan administrator is considering the pandemic to be a “life event” that allows us to adjust our contributions. If you’re in a similar situation, check with your benefits department to see if they are allowing changes!

  27. Michele says:

    I want to update my research on health insurance.

    Don’t automatically go with COBRA. I did some research with the online marketplaces. Then I remembered a friend is self employed and talked to her. Got a recommendation to an independent agent she’s worked with for more than 10 years. COBRA – $665/month. Online marketplace – $500/month. Independent agent – $372 a month for Blue Cross Gold plan. Agent had cheaper, high deductible plans but I don’t have a HSA because old insurance was a traditional PPO. Very happy I did some digging.

  28. Regina says:

    I am using the $$ from forebarence on student loans & extended auto payments to pay off higher interest credit cards & medical debt. Just recently found out (excperienced this) that collections only takes payments for 1 year before handing over to lawyers, who want it all plus court costs. Plus hospital have been taking income tax refunds & potentially stimulus $$.

  29. Kenny Finch says:

    Thank for these resources!

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