If your income has taken a hit amid the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic, you’re far from alone. Workers in nearly every sector have been touched by this unexpected health crisis. No one knows exactly how and when this will shake out but in the meantime, many Americans need help now.
We’ve compiled a guide of places where you can find basic information and guidance around unemployment, rent and mortgage guidelines during the crisis, student loan relief and more.
- How do I file for unemployment?
- Can I get health insurance now?
- Can I pause my student loans?
- When do I have to file my taxes?
- Do I have to pay my rent or mortgage?
- Can I get help paying my basic bills (electric, cell phone?)
- Do I qualify for paid leave?
How do I file for unemployment?
The first step is finding out what you are entitled to from the Federal government and your state’s unemployment benefits program. If you’ve filed for unemployment in the past, you’ll find that your benefits may have changed to help people affected by COVID-19.
The federal government is allowing each state to make changes to their laws. For example, federal law does not require an employee to quit in order to receive benefits due to the impact of COVID-19. Some states may require you to sign up via web while others may offer toll-free numbers for assistance.
Others changes that may be included in your state’s updated benefits:
- An employer temporarily ceases operations due to COVID-19, preventing employees from coming to work;
- An individual is quarantined with the expectation of returning to work after the quarantine is over; and
- An individual leaves employment due to a risk of exposure or infection or to care for a family member.
Can I get health insurance now?
If you’ve recently lost your health insurance due to job loss, don’t panic about having missed the enrollment period. You can still get coverage in 2020 by signing up for the Special Enrollment Period, Medicaid, If you’ve got kids but you make too much money to qualify for Medicaid, you can still get them coverage by enrolling them in CHIP (Children’s Health Insurance Program).
If you already have insurance through your marketplace coverage, it’s best to get in touch with them directly to find out if there are any changes or updates to your coverage.
Can I get help paying my bills?
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau recommends the following:
If you’re struggling to pay your credit card bill, the CFPB and other financial regulators have encouraged financial institutions to work with their customers.
If you’re not able to pay your bills on time, don’t be afraid to contact your lenders and servicers to let them know your situation. Being behind on your payments can have a lasting impact on your credit. Credit card companies and lenders may be able to offer some options, including adjustment of payments and waiving fees. Your bank may also be able to waive ATM fees and create a new payment schedule. The American Banking Association recently released this list of banks and all the ways they’re working with customers who’ve been affected by the crisis.
The same goes for if you’re temporarily unable to manage your auto loan payments. The last thing you need is to deal with impact on your credit rating, your present loan, or repossession of your vehicle.
Just be ready to explain your financial situation and how you’ve been impacted by the COVID-19 crisis.
Can I pause my student loans?
Yes, you may be able to stop paying some of your loans. According to StudentAid.gov, your federal student loans can be placed in an administrative forbearance, which allows you to temporarily stop making your monthly loan payment. For more details about pausing payment on your loans, check out this Q&A.
In addition, as of March 13, 2020, all interest on federally held student loans has been waived. If you’ve got private loans, the best thing to do is get in touch with your lender. If you’re not sure if your loan is covered, visit StudentAid.gov/login.
If you’re a college student with questions about paying your loan (as well as other financial hardship concerns), this government-issued guide can help.
When do I have to file my taxes?
The tax deadline has been delayed until July 15, 2020. That said, if you’re anxious for a refund, the IRS is urging taxpayers to file as quickly as possible. For questions regarding your federal and state taxes, visit IRS.gov.
Do I have to pay my rent or mortgage?
If your mortgage is owned by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, the federal mortgage agencies, the government has instructed them to delay payments due to hardship related to COVID-19. This forbearance program allows for a mortgage payment to be suspended for up to 12 months. If you have an FHA (Federal Housing Administration) loan, you will also be given an extension in order to avoid eviction or foreclosure.
Unfortunately, there’s no federal guidance directing individual landlords to accept late or delayed payments. Your best bet is to look into your state’s housing authority to fight for your tenant rights.
Do I qualify for paid leave?
The recently passed Families First Coronavirus Response Act: Employee Paid Leave Rights requires certain employers to provide employees with paid sick or family leave for specified reasons related to COVID-19. This Act is only in effect through Dec. 31. If you’re not sure if your company offers sick leave, the policy think tank New American Foundation is tracking the corporate response to the coronavirus epidemic.
Part-time workers will be paid the amount they typically earn in a two-week period. People who are self-employed — including gig workers like Uber drivers and Instacart shoppers — can also receive paid leave, but they must calculate their average daily income and claim it as a tax credit.
Does this apply to all employers? Unfortunately, no. How much paid leave, sick time, and how it affects your salary may depend on your employer and the size of your company. In addition, Companies that employ more than 500 workers are excluded from this emergency paid sick days order. If you’re deemed an “essential” employee, your state may still be assessing your coverage.
To find out more, visit your state’s Department of Labor website.