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This is an ever-changing situation and it’s likely a lot of this information will be out of date in few short weeks.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)
- Primary source: The Internal Revenue Service
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Primary source: HealthCare.gov
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
- Primary source: The Internal Revenue Service
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
- Primary source: The US Department of Education Office of Federal Student Aid
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
- Primary source: The Federal Housing Finance Agency
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
- Primary source: Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC)
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.
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).
- 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
- Primary source: The Federal Communications Commission
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
- Primary source: The US Department of Labor
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
- Primary source: US Small Business Administration
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
- If you need food, look into your eligibility for SNAP benefits through the government and/or find a food bank near you.
- The Aunt Bertha website provides information on free/reduced cost services including medical care, food, job training, and more, searchable by ZIP code.
- Broke Millennial’s Coronavirus/Recession Relief Hub delivers a comprehensive wealth of information.
- The New York Times has an incredible guide to navigating benefits: A Hub for Help During the Coronavirus Crisis
- The US government’s website on all things coronavirus: Coronavirus.gov
- From the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau: Beware of scams related to the coronavirus
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?
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