With all the uncertainty surrounding this global pandemic, we have assembled a number of materials to support you through your current struggle. While health and safety are of the biggest concern, individuals like yourself are finding themselves in new territory when it comes to their finances and the future. Explore the articles and resources below to stay ahead of the game and in control of your financial well-being.
Financial Tips for a Pandemic Crisis: Protecting Your Finances from COVID-19
As businesses shut down and shelves clear of supplies, here is what you should do to keep your finances healthy.
The coronavirus has already had far-reaching effects on the global economy and our stock market. However, there are financial concerns much closer to home this global pandemic can cause. These financial tips can help you keep your finances in working order.
Short-term financial tips
Banks, credit unions, and credit card companies are sending out announcements about how their operating procedures may change. Your inbox is probably flooded with coronavirus subject lines, but you need to pay special attention to any that come from your financial providers.
The notifications may include updates about operating hours and what services will be offered. Most financial service providers are encouraging people to use online and mobile services. For example:
• Sign up for autopay or direct debit from your accounts to pay bills
• Use online chat features to speak with representatives, if you have questions or issues with your accounts
Most credit card companies and lenders are encouraging customers to contact them if they anticipate trouble making payments. Companies recognize that everyone from hospitality workers to teachers may see their income significantly reduced during this time. They recognize this may cause financial difficulties.
Instead of avoiding a creditor or lender contact them immediately. They may be able to help with temporary arrangements to reduce or hold your payments until your income returns to normal.
Some stores may be running low or out of everything from surgical masks and hand sanitizer to toilet paper and food. It is tempting to think you need to buy everything you can before there is nothing left; however, this is counterproductive.
2. You are also likely to incur credit card debt buying items that you may or may not need.
Stores are also sending out notifications about their operating hours and what measures they are taking to ensure products are in-stock. If stores in your area plan to stay open there is no need to overspend for closures that may never happen.
When shopping make sure to be practical. Take proper measures to protect yourself, such as wearing gloves while you shop or use hand sanitizer or sanitizing wipes, if provided, at the store.
If you are following the advice to stay at home as much as possible, then you will need things to do to keep yourself entertained. Take a break from streaming, and watching COVID-19 headlines, to improve your financial knowledge!
April is National Financial Literacy Month, which means that many organizations will be offering free financial resources. Learn how to budget better, how to begin investing and smarter strategies for managing debt.
If you are not sure where to begin, check out all the resources available on this portal and start learning.
Long-term financial tips
The long-term economic effects of COVID-19 may be far-reaching. It is possible another global recession will be triggered. As a result, it is important to shore up your finances against long-term economic instability.
Taking on credit card debt in an unstable economy is never a good idea. The last thing you need is higher bills that take up more of your budget. Instead, free up as much cash flow as possible to pad your savings.
You should review your budget carefully to find any expenses you can afford to cut or cut back. This will help reduce the total expenses in your budget and leave more income to pay off debt or put into savings. This will also help avoid the need to use more credit.
An economic downturn might lead to higher unemployment, meaning less job security for everyone. In a volatile economy, it is best to reduce your debt as much as possible.
The best way to reduce existing credit card debt is by using an avalanche or snowball strategy for debt reduction. Prioritize your credit card balances for repayment from either highest to lowest APR or lowest to highest balance.
If you owe more than $10,000, you may need to consider a more aggressive strategy. Look into options for debt consolidation or contact a credit counselor to discuss your options with a certified professional.
In a normal economy, experts recommend that you have three to six months of bills and other budgeted expenses in savings. This will allow you to weather a period of unemployment, or fewer hours at work, without relying on credit cards.
During an economic downturn, or a more severe financial upset like this, you should expand your financial safety net even further. Ideally, six to twelve months of savings is suggested. This will help you cover any cut hours or loss of business COVID-19 may cause.
KOFE’s coaching team is here to help!
Our financial coaches are available to help. Coaches can help you address the challenges you’re facing with your budget and debt. Give us a call at (844) 318-1514 or book an appointment to speak with a coach. The call is free and confidential.
How to Handle Pay Cuts or Reduced Hours at Work
A change in your income is fine when it’s in your favor. On the other hand, when the amount you receive in your paycheck suddenly drops because of a change in your employment situation, it can be disastrous for your budget and your ability to maintain financial stability. If you don’t make some adjustments and the income drop continues, you’re likely to take risky financial actions like dipping into your savings or using credit to cover your expenses. All of this has a high potential to end in financial distress.
Discretionary expenses are anything that’s not a necessity in your budget, and they are the first things that should go when you have a decrease in your monthly income. You may not need to cut absolutely everything, but it’s better to err on the side of caution. Cut anything that you do not absolutely need immediately after you aware that your hours or pay will be cut.
• Do not splurge. Eliminate things like dining out, trips to the coffee shop, extra visits to the salon, and weekly visits to the mall. You should also avoid shopping online since targeted advertising makes it all too easy to impulse shop.
As you get comfortable with your reduced paycheck amount, you can begin to add these expenses back into your spending. Do so slowly to ensure your budget can handle the extra costs without slipping into the red.
Adjusting your budget is a necessary short-term solution, but you will not be happy living on a bare-bones budget indefinitely. First, assess how likely your current employer is to reinstate your previous income level or restore the hours taken from your schedule.
If the answer is they are not likely to do either, or you expect it will take an unspecified amount of time to happen, then it is time to move on. Get your resume together and start looking for another position.
On the other hand, if the change is only temporary and you are willing to stick it out, then you should explore options for supplementing your income. Consider a part-time or second job. If it is available in your career field do some consulting or freelance work. Also, consider employment opportunities for other members of your household to help out and fill the gap.
Tax withholding is the amount of money that is taken from every paycheck in order to cover federal (and possibly state) income taxes. The amount withheld approximates what you should owe to the government on April 15.
However, when your withholding is too high, it means the government is taking more money from every paycheck than required, which is why you get a refund. A refund is the government giving the money back because you were overcharged.
Decreasing your tax withholding means bring home more money per paycheck. This may help offset your loss of income. Your refund next year may not be as big but when withholding is done correctly you break even, do not have to pay and have more money available every month.
While cutting discretionary expenses is the first step on the path, depending on your lifestyle those cuts may not be enough to balance your budget at your new lower income level.
In this case, debt consolidation can prove invaluable.It may provide a way to lower your total monthly payments depending on the nature of your current debt load and which consolidation options you are eligible to use.
Carrying balances that are high relative to their credit lines on high interest credit cards, costs you money over time. The interest charges add up, especially when you have big balances that carry over month to month.
You can consolidate those credit cards into one payment using a debt management program that you enroll in through a credit counseling agency. On average, this program may lower your total monthly payments by 30-50% while rolling all your debts into one easy payment every month. You still pay off your debt in-full, you just do it in a way that is more manageable on your limited budget.
If you have federal student loans, you may also want to consider options for student loan consolidation. Some programs may offer the same advantages of simplifying your monthly payment schedule into one bill while lowering your total payments. Just keep in mind that you have to pursue student loan consolidation and credit card debt consolidation separately – i.e. you can consolidate both types of debt, but you cannot consolidate them together.
Take the Right Steps to Cope with Financial Stress
How to identify – and then reduce – high stress levels caused by money challenges
We have all been there. Money gets tight, debt problems loom, and despite your best efforts your stress levels go up and up until you are snapping at family members and spacing out at work wondering how you are going to keep all the balls you are juggling in the air. The financial challenges you’re facing can be better handled with a clear focus and a calm mind. Stress is not helping, and in many cases, it may be holding you back from moving forward.
Signs of financial stress
Understanding that your life, outlook and loved ones are negatively impacted by financial stress is not as easy as you think. The following signs can help you identity if you are dealing with excessively high financial stress levels:
- • Are you arguing with your spouse and family members more often, money-related fights or not?
- • Are you hiding bills and receipts from your spouse so you do not “get caught” spending money?
- • Are you having difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep at night?
- • Are you stress eating – i.e. have your eating habits changed and you are eating out more, turning to comfort and junk foods?
If you answered yes to any of the above questions, financial stress may be impacting your life more than you think.
5 steps to reduce financial stress
You need to deal with the cause of the stress AND deal with the resulting symptoms that the stress is manifesting. Addressing the symptoms first is often the right option. The physical and emotional strain you feel can make it difficult to reach clear headed key decisions.
2. Start exercising – Exercise is a great way to burn stress, as well as calories.
3. Speak with your doctor – Let him/her know about any physical issues you are having and help them understand the stress levels you are facing. Many providers offer virtual appointments
2. Treat signs of addiction – People often fall into or fall back into bad habits when they are extremely stressed.
3. Take time outs to recharge – Do something that will take your mind off of your finances for a few minutes. Letting yourself relax will make you more focused when you need to really get to work. Do this at least once each day.
Now that you are healthy and more centered, you can start working to fix what is causing the stress.
Organize challenges into groups. Chances are that a high level of financial stress has more than one source. With that in mind, you need to organize financial stressors into four categories:
• Important, Unchangeable: These are contributing factors that have led to your situation that you can not change.
• Not Important, Changeable. These are things that may be irritating you and adding to your stress level, but are not truly contributing factors.
• Not Important, Unchangeable: Again, these are often things that start to seem significant when we get stressed, but which really do not have any effect on your current situation.
Once you have cut everything that either is not important or cannot be changed, you are left with the big things, which are true sources of your financial stress. Now find the right person to help you deal with each one of those factors.
• Mortgage challenges: Talk to a HUD-certified housing counselor in a one-on-one counseling session.
• Student loans: Visit StudentAid.gov to review your options for relief or talk to your loan servicer directly.
• Tax debt: Talk to a certified public accountant or tax professional to review your options. They can help arrange settlement plans with the IRS and even help with relief options.
• Medical debt: First, call the original healthcare provider directly – not the collector – to see if you can work out a payment plan.
2. Realize nothing in credit last forever. You CAN recover and you WILL be able to get back where you want to be, it just takes patience and a clear path forward – both of which you have now!
3. Accept that change is a part of life. Even significant changes that seem like the end of your world are just the start of something different. Let go and find fulfillment in exploring new opportunities.
4. Be thankful. Find good in each day and focus on that as you continue to take one step at a time towards financial stability.
Important Government Updates
Government agencies are working with the White House and Congress to ensure Americans can get financial relief during this time.
The federal government passed a landmark $2 trillion stimulus package on March 27, 2020. Part of that sum will go directly to individuals and families who meet certain requirements. The amount you receive depends on your situation.
• If you are a single parent who claims Head of Household on your tax returns, you can make up to $112,500 annually and receive $1,200
• A married couple who makes less than $150,000 annually will receive $2,400
• Married couples and heads of household will receive an additional $500 per child under the age of 17 in the home
People who make more than the annual totals listed above may still receive money. The Washington Post has a full list of rules and a free stimulus calculator.
The payments are set to start going out the first week of April. However, delays may happen, and checks may be sent in batches. Experts warn it could take up to eight weeks to receive your money, even if everything begins on time.
Checks will be sent through the Internal Revenue Service and Social Security Administration. Eligible Americans will receive their funds via the same method they receive their tax refunds or Social Security benefit payments.
The IRS has extended both the tax filing and the payment deadline for 2019 income tax returns. You are not required to file your annual tax return until July 15, 2020. If you owe money to the IRS, the payment needs to be made in full by July 15 before penalties and interest will start to apply.
Tip: If you won’t owe money to the IRS and should receive a refund, don’t procrastinate! You can file now and receive your refund via Direct Deposit within roughly 21 days. That money could help you get through quarantines and income reductions caused by COVID!
On March 13, President Trump announced that all federal student loan payments would be suspended for 60 days. The government is also waiving interest charges during this time, regardless of whether you have subsidized or unsubsidized loans.
It’s important to note that payment suspension is not automatic. You must contact your lenders to suspend your payments. However, if you decide to make your payments now there is a small bit of good news. Since interest is being waived, 100% of any payment you make will go towards the principal balance you owe.
Some states and counties are suspending shutoffs of utilities, such as power, gas, electricity, and water. State and municipal governments have stepped up and stepped in for many residents to prevent utility companies from shutting off services due to nonpayment.
It’s important to note that this is not a federal order. You need to look for information on your state and county to see if shutoffs have been suspended. If so, your utilities will not be cut off simply because you can’t pay your bill.
The $2 trillion stimulus also included $349 billion in relief for small business owners via federally guaranteed, tax-free loans.
• As are sole proprietors, independent contractors and self-employed individuals
• Businesses owned by Veterans, women, as well as, socially and economically disadvantaged individuals, and those in rural areas and those less businesses than 2 years old have priority to receiving funds
• The loan is fully forgivable for eight weeks starting February 15 and ending June 30
• Your business can receive up to two and one-half times your monthly operating costs
Forbes has a great article that covers all the rules, application and repayment exemptions a business needs to know.
Watch Out For These Coronavirus Scams!
While most of us are coming together to support each other during this time, others are using this as an opportunity to scam people. Please watch out for these types of scams and report them if you encounter them.
Congress and the White House are still working to agree on aid for Americans who are suffering from income loss. As of yet, no agreement has been reached on “stimulus checks.” However, scammers would like for you to think otherwise.
If you receive text messages, robocalls or emails that ask you to reply regarding stimulus checks or government grants that you can receive, it’s a scam.
Some scammers will try to impersonate your bank or credit union. The messages say things like, “Operations have been suspended. Please provide your debit card number and PIN to ensure you can continue to use your account.”
Note that your bank will never ask you to send them a full amount number. Neither will credit card companies. Never give out account numbers, PINs or your Social Security number.
Coronavirus testing kit shortages are well-reported and people are understandably concerned. However, if you receive text messages, voicemail or emails regarding paid testing kits, it’s a scam. Instead of getting a testing kit, you’re simply giving them access to your accounts.
Note that if you receive text messages about this, delete them with no response. Do no even follow instructions to opt-out.
Another paid offer you may receive is for cleaning services, specifically HVAC and air duct cleaning. If you did not inquire with a cleaning company and you begin to receive unsolicited messages or emails, ignore them. Don’t opt-out, don’t respond with anything. Just hit delete.
If you’re trying to help those less fortunate than you through this time, you also need to be cautious of charity scams. One easy way to tell the difference between a legitimate charity and a scam is how they ask for donations. Scammers rely on gift cards, cash, or wire transfers.
Research any charity that you don’t recognize carefully online before you donate. And be cautious even if you recognize the name of the organization. Scammers are impersonating the World Health Organization now. Donating directly through secure websites for charities, such as the WHO’s portal is the safest option right now.
Explore the resource links below to learn more about the new legislation and programs becoming available for those affected by this global pandemic.
How to Use Your Stimulus Check Wisely
Making sure the money you receive helps you get through the crisis.
On March 27, 2020, Congress and the White House passed a historic $2 trillion economic stimulus package to help American workers and businesses get through this crisis. A big part of that money will be divvied up and sent directly to individuals and families. Here’s what you can expect to receive, along with tips on the best way to use your stimulus check.
How much can I expect to receive?
Stimulus checks are being issued based on need, both by income and the size of your household. If you’re a single parent or married couple with kids, you receive more money than an individual without kids. If you’re a high-income earner, you will get a smaller check than someone with low income or you won’t get a check at all.
|Household||Annual Income||Size of Stimulus Check|
|Individual||Up to $75,000||$1,200|
|Individual||Up to $99,000||Less than $1,200|
|Married Couple||Up to $150,000||$2,400|
|Married Couple||Up to $198,000||Less than $2,400|
|Head of Household||Up to $112,500||$1,200|
|Head of Household||Up to $136,500||Less than $1,200|
|Each child in the household, under the age of 17||$500|
Let’s say you’re a single parent that makes $102,000 per year and you have two young children in your home. You would receive $2,220 for your individual stimulus as a head of household then plus $500 for each child.
Head of household is a status that you claim on your annual income tax returns. According to the IRS, someone can file as head of household if they are unmarried, paid more than half the cost of keeping up the home for the year and a qualifying dependent lived with you for at least half the year.
Being Head of Household doesn’t get you a bigger check, but it does increase the annual income allowable to receive the full $1,200 check. However, you must claim Head of Household on your taxes in order to qualify.
How will I receive my stimulus check?
The government is going to use existing agencies and payment channels to make distributing the money as easy as possible.
If you file annual income tax returns through the IRS…
You will receive your money the same way you receive your tax refund. If you get your refund via Direct Deposit, your stimulus check will arrive the same way to the same bank account. If you have your refund mailed to you, then your stimulus check will go to the same address.
The IRS will distribute the funds to the account or address that they have on file. If you haven’t yet filed your 2019 tax returns, they’ll use the information from your 2018 returns.
If you have moved or changed bank accounts since your 2018 return, then you should file your 2019 return as soon as possible so they have your current information.
If you don’t file income tax returns but receive social security or SSI…
People who receive Social Security or SSI payments through the Social Security Administration may not file taxes. In this case, your stimulus check will be delivered the same way your social security payments arrive. This may be by Direct Deposit or by physical mail to your home address.
When will the money arrive?
U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin says they want to start distributing stimulus checks on Friday, April 17. However, experts warn that everyone should expect delays. Even if the Treasury starts on time, they are likely to distribute stimulus payouts in batches.
It may take up to 8 weeks to receive your money by Direct Deposit. It could take longer for anyone wanting on a physical check.
What’s the best way to use my stimulus money?
“It’s good that the government stepped in to provide some relief for Americans,” says Gary Herman, President of Consolidated Credit. “However, when you think about it, the money you receive may not go very far depending on your circumstances. It’s crucial to make sure you’re making the funds you receive stretch as far as possible.”
Cover groceries that you need or costs if something crucial in your house breaks. If you and your household need it to survive, it’s a wise use of your money.
But try to avoid using the money you receive to panic purchase. That’s where you over-buy things like toilet paper or canned goods that you may not even need, depending on the length and limitations of quarantines where you live.
We usually encourage people to use extra cash you receive to make extra payments on your credit cards. However, in this situation, don’t do that immediately!
Put on your stimulus into savings until you need to use it to cover necessities. Keeping it your savings account will help ensure it’s doesn’t get spent until it’s absolutely necessary.
If you’re working from home and don’t foresee any changes in your employment situation, you may feel comfortable using your stimulus for other purposes. Don’t!
Even if you have a steady income with a full paycheck now, you can’t know for certain that will last. You may face layoffs, pay cuts or reduced hours before stay-at-home orders finally end.
You should plan for the worst in this case and save your stimulus in case you have an income change you didn’t anticipate.
Many Americans are being forced to use credit cards to cover necessities while they wait for stimulus relief. You may be using credit cards to cover increased grocery costs, emergencies or even bills.
When quarantines and stay-at-home orders end, paying off those charges would be a good use of leftover stimulus funds. This crisis may have significant and long-term effects on our economy. We could be headed for a recession. If so, you want to minimize debt as much as possible.
If you have questions about your budget or debt during this time, we can help.
Need a distraction while you’re cooped up in quarantine? Comcast, and other internet providers and organizations, are offering free deals due to coronavirus.
Out of all the major deals we could find, Comcast is doing the most to help low-income families, students and teachers access the internet during this time.
Streaming is especially popular right now – so we’ve also included major streaming platforms offering 30-day trials.
The amount of time people spent streaming increased more than 20 percent in early March, according to TV advertising company Wurl Inc.
Here are ways you can do the same, but save money doing it:
Most colleges have announced that they’ve gone entirely online for the remainder of their school year. With classes being entirely online, it’s important for students to have quick and easy access to the internet and other educational tools.
But it’s especially important for financially-struggling families for it to be free. Here’s what different companies are offering:
What it is: Need to join a Zoom call but don’t have internet or WiFi available at home? Spectrum will give you both for free as part of their Remote Education Credit if you’re a K-12 student, college student or teacher.
Spectrum’s site says they’ll even waive any installation or prepayment fees to help you get started. The offer lasts until May 15.
How to get it: Call 855-243-8892.
What it is: Comcast’s offer is similar to Spectrum, but has more benefits. It comes with:
- • Free WiFi with Xfinity hotspots
- • Free unlimited data and internet for 60 days (for existing Comcast customers)
- • No late fees or disconnects if you can’t afford the bills
- • New educational collections for all grade levels (for existing Comcast customers)
- • An $150 Comcast gift card for students only
Comcast also announced it’s raising the internet speed for Internet Essentials, its internet service provider for low-income families. The speed, they announced, is a move that’s here to stay even after the virus is gone.
How to get it: Go here.
What it is: Kanopy offers your local library’s video collection, along with other indie, foreign and documentary films. There are not many fictional films on this platform, and many universities use this for educational purposes. This was free before coronavirus, and it’s still free now.
How to get it: Log in here with your student or professor ID or your public library card.
If you already have access to the internet and just want something to watch, here are a few unique options. Although many mainstream services like Netflix and Hulu don’t have any COVID-19-specific deals running, they still have month-long free trials.
What it is: After canceling the remainder of their 2019-2020 season, the Metropolitan Opera in New York City announced it would be running live streams of previous plays on their site and on-demand apps. They’ll show a different show every night at 7:30 p.m. and have it live on their site for 23 hours.
The streams are scheduled to last through April 5. You can view the schedule here.
How to get it: Go here.
What it is: Sling TV is offering free news and thousands of shows and movies, including a 24/7 stream of ABC News Live and a family-friendly section. You don’t even need an existing paid Sling TV account to get access.
How to get it: Go here.
What it is: VidAngel is a traditional streaming service packed with TV and shows. What makes it different is its different filters allow you to skip what it deems as profanity, racial slurs, and violence. You can filter out specific words and different kinds of violence if that makes you uncomfortable or if you’re watching with kids.
It’s offering everything for free until March 30. You don’t have to put your credit card information in the system, either.
How to get it: Go here.
While some popular streaming services aren’t making their services free right away, many still have 30-day free trials – compared to many companies’ 7-day trials – you can take advantage of.
You just have to remember to cancel before the 30 days are up.
Financial Truth or Myth
With all the information available, it is important to know the difference between facts and fiction. Test your knowledge of the truth behind some of the commonly known financial COVID-19 myths.
I should dodge my creditors if I cannot afford to pay them because of COVID-19 related circumstances.
Truth: Many creditors, lenders, and service providers are offering internal hardship programs and assistance such as waiving fees, deferring payments, and reducing interest rates. Reach out at the first sign of trouble to discuss your options and preserve your credit as much as possible.
I cannot access my retirement money now, even if I truly need the funds to stay afloat without paying a hefty penalty.
Truth: A provision in the current relief bill allows Americans to take penalty-free distributions from IRAs and qualified retirement plans up to $100,000. The standard 10% penalty for withdrawals under age 59.5 (except in the event of death or disability) is waived.
I must take unpaid time off of work to care for my children because schools have closed indefinitely because of COVID-19.
Truth: According to the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, you may be eligible to receive full or partial paid leave if you are unable to work due to Coronavirus circumstances, such as caring for a child because schools have closed.
If I get laid off, the unemployment benefits will never be enough to cover my basic essential needs until I get back on my feet.
Truth: The new stimulus package has extended the unemployment benefits beyond the current timeframe and increased the weekly payout to help offset the financial effects of COVID-19 for families.
My federal student loans will all be automatically forgiven because of the COVID-19 crisis.
Truth: The new legislation does not provide permanent forgiveness for student loans. However, payments and interest on all federal loans held by the U.S. Department of Education will be suspended for six months, to September 30, 2020. The Department of Education will also suspend collection efforts on defaulted federal student loans, and will cease wage garnishments, Social Security offsets, and tax refund seizures.
I will be immediately evicted from my home if I have become unable to afford to pay my mortgage.
Truth: On March 18th, HUD ordered a halt on all new foreclosure actions, suspension on all foreclosure actions currently in process, and to cease all evictions for the next 60 days for homeowners with FHA-insured Title II Single Family Forward and Home Equity Conversion (reverse) mortgages.
Speak With a Coach
To speak with a financial coach about your concerns, call your dedicated toll-free number (844) 318-1514 or book an appointment below. The call is confidential and free. Coaches can review your credit and budget situation and offer recommendations to improve your circumstances.