Apr 8, 2020
What To Do If You Can’t Pay Debts During Covid-19
Call your credit card company and your landlord, and get creative.
Since March, more than 10 million Americans have filed for unemployment. Couple this with the Federal Reserve’s statistic that 57% of Americans don’t have $400 for an emergency, and we’ve got a situation where record numbers of people may no longer be able to pay their debts.
If you fall into this category, here’s what to do about it:
1-Ask your credit card company for payment deferrals.
Some credit card companies are offering deferments on a case-by-case basis, so calling the company, explaining that your job was directly affected by the coronavirus, and asking specifically for deferments is the way to go. You can also ask for lower interest rates, higher credit limits and waived late fees.
“Many big companies such as Capital One, American Express, Apple, Chase, and Citi have already made announcements that they’re offering different forms of emergency support to customers facing financial strain due to the coronavirus pandemic,” says Nathan Grant, senior credit industry analyst at Credit Card Insider.
2-Get cash by filing for unemployment (even if you’re a freelancer or part-time worker) .
Many people believe they can’t collect unemployment checks, because they’ve traditionally been reserved for full-time employees. But now, gig workers, independent contractors, part-time workers, and freelancers who have been affected by Covid-19 can file for unemployment thanks to the new pandemic unemployment compensation.
Yes, the system is overwhelmed. Yes, it may take several tries to get through to someone, especially in states like California and New York that have been especially hard hit by the virus. But it’s worth the time. Within a few weeks, you could be collecting checks that will help you pay down those debts. Also, signing up for unemployment puts you on-record as being out of a job, which may come in handy during the economic fall-out in the months to come. If you’re unsure if you qualify for unemployment, you can check here.
3-Consider refinancing your home.
It will be difficult to refinance during this crisis because banks are flooded with requests, says Certified Public Accountant and personal finance expert Logan Allec, based in Valencia, Calif. Still, it might be worth a shot, he says, since interest rates are at an all-time low, and that can save you money. A 30-year fixed rate mortgage is now at 3.3%, according to the federal mortgage agency Freddie Mac, which also says a 15-year fixed rate mortgage is 2.82%. To compare, if you purchased your home in July of 2006, your 30-year fixed rate mortgage could be as high as 6.72%. In that case, refinancing now could save you hundreds of dollars each month.
4-Redirect your retirement contributions to a checking account.
If you’ve been putting money into a retirement account, you have a few options. To access a little more cash, you can simply call the financial institution in charge of your IRA and have them redirect new deposits to your checking account, according to Allec.
Or, you can use some of the cash in your account. Thanks to the new Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, if you were affected by Coronavirus, you can access up to $100,000 of your retirement account without the usual 10% penalty for taking it out early. On the downside, you will have to pay income tax on that money, and the value of many retirement accounts are now worth less because the stock market has dropped so much.
5-File your 2019 taxes!
More than 70% of Americans got a tax refund last year, according to the Washington Post. Plus, the economic stimulus package will give the most money to those who reported a household income of under $75K. If this was you in 2019 but you made more than 75K in 2018, it’s important to file your taxes immediately to get your full stimulus benefit of $1200 per adult and $500 per child under 17. You can find out more about federal stimulus checks here.
6-Call everyone else you owe.
Calling landlords, utility companies, and other loan officers to ask for deferments and reductions could help big time. In fact, many cities are offering rent moratoriums, or temporary suspensions of payment. Check this website to find out the moratorium situation in your state or city. The CARES act also has provisions delaying evictions for people with federally backed mortgages, or whose rent is federally subsidized.
If you do get deferment from your landlord, just remember to pay all owed rent before the end of your lease so it doesn’t affect your credit. “There are no downsides for asking from an extension during this troubling time,” Allec says.
7-And of course, get creative.
For a lot of people, the current financial climate demands they transform a hobby into a paying gig. For example, New York bartender Jess Reed lost her job due to coronavirus and has credit card debt to pay, so she started a business on Instagram: an at-home bakery. Jess calls her temporary business Well Sh*t Baked Goods (our censorship, not hers), charges $15 to $25 for sweet treats, and already has four orders a day. To deliver them, she seals up the dessert and bikes it to her recipients’ doorstep. “I get to bake and go bike around the city, so it’s fun,” Reed says. Though she worries about student loans (which she immediately got deferred when Covid-19 hit) and her credit card debt, Reed is donating $1 from every purchase to a food bank.
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