If the ever-evolving coronavirus situation has put a halt on your income or lowered it dramatically, don’t panic. Instead, it’s best to stay calm, rally your resources and come up with a strategy for your finances. If COVID-19 has affected your ability to pay your rent or mortgage, cover your other bills and put food on the table, here’s what you can do to get through this time:
Re-Evaluate Your Finances
First, get a big-picture look at your financial situation. What are your basic living expenses, how much debt do you have, and will you be getting any financial assistance in the form of unemployment or disability checks?
Then, go through all your expenses and see what you can cut back on or get rid of entirely. “Now is a great time to go through your most recent billing statement and cancel any subscriptions or costs in order to lower your future spending,” says Logan Allec, founder of Money Done Right. “Also, think about canceling any spending that you can’t use now.” Some services might have been halted because of the coronavirus situation. For instance, your gym membership or yoga classes.
You’ll then want to see how you might go about lowering your existing expenses. Can you get a cheaper plan for your home internet, or reach out to your provider to see if they’re willing to offer a promo rate? If you’re new to this world of negotiating, come up with a basic script before giving them a call. Remember: It’s far better for them to keep you as a customer than to lose you entirely.
Last, go down the list of all your expenses and see how you can scale back. How can you save on groceries and entertainment at home? Instead of doling out cash on streaming entertainment services, can you download movies for free from your library?
Check for Eviction Moratoriums
There might be an eviction moratorium where you live. In other words, if you’re unable to cover your rent because of the coronavirus, then you won’t be kicked out of your place. This is being rolled out at the city, county, or state level. There are different rules and terms depending on where you live, so you’ll have to check.
For instance, the governor of California has issued a statewide executive order that will protect tenants until May 31, 2020. That doesn’t mean you’re completely off the hook, though. In the Golden State, you’ll still need to pay your landlord for what’s owed. And in the state of New York, eviction moratoriums are in place until at least June 20th.
Reach Out to Your Loan Servicer
If you’re a homeowner and have mortgage payments, the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) has suspended foreclosures on single-family homes that are FHA-insured for 60 days, effective March 18, 2020. More good news: If your home was in the process of a foreclosure, this would be halted.
Along the same lines, you can reach out to your gas and power companies to see if they’re waiving late fees or being more forgiving before shutting off your utilities.
Contact Your Landlord as Soon as Possible
If you’re renting from somebody, reach out to them as soon as you can if you are concerned about your ability to pay next month’s rent, and be sure you understand any eviction freezes being considered by your state or local government, recommends Allec.
“As a landlord myself, I appreciate it when tenants are upfront with me about their situation and don’t try to hide it with bogus excuses.” Just like you’d like a heads-up before stuff hits the fan, letting your landlord know as soon as you can gives them time to prepare, and to come up with some sort of contingency plan.
If you’re able to cover some of your rent, you could try reaching out to your landlord, explaining your situation and why you’re not able to cover the next month’s rent. You’ll want to then ask if a temporary reduction in rent would be possible. Given the circumstances, your landlord might be amenable to this arrangement.
And if you’ve exhausted all the obvious avenues, see if your landlord would be open to bartering, suggests money coach and educator Sarah Von Bargen. “What skills do you have that might be useful to them?,” says Von Bargen, who is the founder of Yes and Yes. “Could you repaint an empty unit in the building or do some landscaping in exchange for cheap or free rent? If you rent from a large company, maybe they could use help with their website or social media.”
Look for Relief
If you’ve lost a job or aren’t able to work due to circumstances prompted by the coronavirus, look toward forms of relief. Help is out there.
For instance, under the newly passed Families First Coronavirus Act (FFCRA), certain employers are required to provide their workers one of two things: 80 hours of paid sick leave if they’re unable to work because of a quarantine or are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms. Or up to 80 hours of paid sick leave that’s equal to two-thirds of their pay because they were tending to someone under quarantine or someone with symptoms. An employee might also qualify for an additional 10 weeks of paid leave at two-thirds of his or her regular pay.
You might also qualify for disaster unemployment benefits. This extends to freelancers and self-employed folks, too. For instance, if you’ve lost your job, aren’t able to reach your place of work, or cannot work due to a disaster-related injury, you can apply for this form of unemployment. You’ll need to apply through your state’s unemployment office.
You’ll want to learn about other relief efforts based on the type of work you do and your industry. For instance, there are relief efforts for small businesses, freelancers, and artists. There are also relief efforts for different professions and industries. To name a few, those who work as bartenders and in the beauty industry.
While the reality of not being able to keep up with your bills because of the coronavirus can feel scary, remaining calm and looking at different solutions will help you swiftly navigate through rocky times.
Do you know of more helpful resources? Share them in the comments!
Jackie Lam is a personal finance writer. Her work has appeared in Investopedia, Magnify Money and The Bold Italic, and she’s been featured in Money, Kiplinger, Forbes and Woman’s Day. She runs heyfreelancer.com, a blog to help freelancers and artists with their money, and to balance their passion projects and careers.