COVID-19 Financial Do’s and Don’ts
By Ted Daniels, SFEPD Founder and President
The COVID-19 global pandemic is creating enormous economic challenges and fiscal distress for individuals and families in the United States and abroad. Here are Do’s and Don’ts to help manage personal finances during these difficult times.
Create or revise your budget. This is a perfect time to analyze your spending habits. Take a comprehensive look at your spending and identify where you can cut back. Create a plan that is reasonable to limit spending.
- If you have an emergency savings fund, consider putting a little extra money in the fund in case the crisis lasts longer than expected. If you don’t have an emergency fund, create one and use the money saved from working remotely.
- Keep a small amount of cash at home in a secure place. It is important to have small bills on hand in case ATMs and credit cards are not available when you need to purchase necessary supplies, fuel, or food.
- Protect your credit during the COVID-19 pandemic. Your credit reports and scores play an important role in your future financial opportunities. If you have not requested your free annual credit reports, copies are available at: AnnualCreditReport.com. Each three nationwide credit reporting agencies – Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian – allow you to get your report for free once every 12 months. Be sure to check your reports for errors and dispute any inaccurate information.
- Make at least the minimum monthly payment due on credit cards(s).
- Set up an automatic online bill payment to save time and money by avoiding late fees and check costs and to avoid in-person payments.
Call your mortgage servicer if you cannot pay your mortgage or are worried about missing a payment. The number for your mortgage servicer is on your monthly mortgage loan statement. Many mortgage companies have programs to help during the COVID-19 crisis.
Call your lenders if you are experiencing financial difficulties or become unemployed and explain your financial situation. Many lenders have announced proactive measures to help borrowers impacted by COVID-19. As with other natural disasters and emergencies, they may be willing to provide forbearance, loan extensions, a reduction in interest rates, and/or other flexibilities for repayment.
Some lenders are not reporting late payments to credit reporting agencies or waiving late fees for borrowers in forbearance due to this pandemic. If you cannot make payments, contact your lenders to explain your situation, and be sure to get confirmation of any agreements in writing.
Contact your student loan servicers, if you are having problems paying your student loans, due to the crisis. Ask for the income-sensitive payment plan or a limited loan forbearance period. The Federal Government is waiving interest on student loans for a limited period. Check with your loan services or the U.S. Department of Education for details. Also, check with your private student loan lenders to find out what options are available. For more information, https://studentaid.gov/announcements-events/coronavirus.
Get your benefits such as unemployment benefits or continuation of salary payments electronically. A crisis can disrupt mail service for days or weeks. If you depend on Social Security or other regular benefits, switching to electronic payments is a simple, significant way to protect yourself financially before a crisis strikes. It also eliminates the risk of stolen checks.
Mobile Devices and Cash Apps
Use caution when sending money to or receiving money using mobile services. Person-to-person payment services and mobile payment apps have become part of everyday life. However, scammers use mobile payment services to trick people into sending money or merchandise without holding up their end of the deal. Use mobile payment services with family, friends, and others you trust is one of the safest ways to protect your money.
Alternative Financial Services
Don’t be tempted to use alternative financial services like payday lenders, check cashing services or title loans. These alternatives usually become attractive in times of crisis and consumers feel financially pressured, so they seek quick solutions to their situations and do not explore stream banking and lending options.
Do not take on any new unnecessary debt. Try to reduce your debt as much as possible.
- Although some lenders may be making concessions for payments, don’t just take their word. Make sure you get any amended agreement in writing.
- Do not co-sign a loan for anyone!
Stock Market/ Retirement Plans
Do not panic because the stock market has been super volatile. The key is to have a well-balanced asset allocation for the long run. Check with your financial/investment advisor about the 401(k) and 403(b) plan allocation and non-retirement investment accounts. Only withdraw or seek loans from your retirement funds as a last resort.
- Don’t spend money on large purchases such as luxury cars, boats, and homes. Prices and interest rates may decline so you may be paying more for an item than necessary if you make purchases now. Be patient and wait for sales.
- Do not make emotional purchases.
Don’t drop insurance coverage (life insurance, property, casualty, etc.). If necessary, temporarily increase your deductible.
Don’t be fooled by scammers. Scammers look for opportunities to take advantage of vulnerable populations, especially during times of emergencies or natural disasters. Be cautious of emails, texts, or social media posts that may be selling fake products or information about emerging coronavirus cases.
The Federal Trade Commission has tips to protect yourself from possible coronavirus-related scams. The FTC and the Food and Drug Administration have also cautioned consumers to be on the lookout for sellers of unapproved and misbranded products, claiming they can treat or prevent coronavirus.