April 1 is here.
Meeting routine financial obligations, such as rent and student loans bills, will be a challenge for the millions of Americans who find themselves without a paycheck thanks to the coronavirus outbreak.
Overwhelmed? Scared? Begin by making a list of all your bills, experts say. At the top should be the things you most need.
“Normally, rent and mortgage are the most important,” said Anthony Alexis, head of the Consumer Financial Services Litigation.
Yet nothing is normal these days.”For rentals, many large states such as California and New York have enacted a moratorium on evictions,” Alexis said.
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That means you may be able to redirect your usual housing costs to other essentials, if you need to.
A law clinic at Columbia University has compiled a spreadsheet of eviction policies by state and city. The rules vary, and it’s worth learning which ones apply to you and discussing them with your landlord or lender.
In New York City, for example, no eviction warrants will be issued for at least 90 days. Foreclosures in New York are on pause, too. In Mecklenburg County, South Carolina, the sheriff’s office said it will suspend the enforcement of evictions until mid-April. (If your landlord attempts to ignore the rules, you can lodge a complaint with your state’s attorney general or city counselor’s office, Alexis said.)
Meanwhile, the massive stimulus package Congress passed last week provides a moratorium on federally backed mortgage loans (60 days or 180 days, depending on your situation).
Some 200 banks in California, including JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo and Citi, will offer a 90-day waiver of mortgage payments for residents in the state, thanks to a deal reached by Gov. Gavin Newsom.
If you’re worried about making your mortgage bill, you should call your lender and explain your circumstances, said Nick Simpson, a spokesman for the Consumer Bankers Association.
“Once you do that, there are a variety of options available on a bank-by-bank basis, ranging from grace periods, delaying payments, forbearance and making late payments,” Simpson said.
To be sure, if you can keep up with these bills, you should. That way, you will avoid being hit with a large payment when the outbreak subsides. Most adults will soon get a $1,200 check from the government to help them stay afloat.
Many utility companies are also offering relief.
Comcast said it won’t disconnect any customers’ internet throughout the pandemic, and New York utility ConEdison won’t shut off anyone’s lights. Verizon announced it will do away with late fees and not suspend the service of customers negatively impacted by the global crisis.
People need to know that there is help out there, but it won’t come to you.
chief industry analyst at CompareCards.com
“The key is to find out who’s offering what in terms of leniency,” said Jack Gillis, the executive director of the Consumer Federation of America. “This proactive effort is the best way to determine what bills need to be paid now, and which ones can wait.”
Some of the offers available to you will come with better terms than others, said Kristen Holt, CEO of credit counselling agency GreenPath Financial Wellness. That can help you decide which bills to pause and which to pay.
For example, there’s no downside to taking the coronavirus forbearance for federal student loans because interest won’t accrue on your debt during the six-month reprieve. Yet even if your bank lets you take a break from your credit card payment, chances are you’ll still rack up interest.
That said, credit card companies are taking the crisis into account, said Matt Schulz, chief industry analyst at CompareCards.com.
“People need to know that there is help out there, but it won’t come to you,” Schulz said, adding that people should call their issuers as soon as possible.
“Tell them your story and they might be able to offer you some short-term help like a lower [interest rate], higher credit limit or waived fees,” he said. “They might even offer to defer, or at least reduce, your minimum payment for a while.”
And some issuers, including Apple Card, American Express and Capital One, will allow you to skip a payment without accruing interest, said Ted Rossman, industry analyst at CreditCards.com.
Many families are going to have to make tough decisions in the coming months, Holt said.
Most important of all, she said, is “to make sure you’ve got some money for your groceries and medicine, things like that, before you send money out the door you won’t be able to get back.”
Disclosure: NBCUniversal and Comcast Ventures are investors in Acorns.